KARACHI: Dignity in mental health should be acknowledged as a human right and all stakeholders, including the government, need to mobilise their resources towards recovery and rehabilitation of people with mental health conditions whose number is estimated to be more than 25 million in the country.

These were some important points highlighted at a programme held on Friday to observe World Health Mental Day at the Arts Council. It was organised by the Mental Health Forum (MHF), a cluster of 21 non-governmental organisations launched last year to create awareness of mental illness and to work on legislation on mental health.

In his keynote address on ‘Dignity in Mental Health’, professor at Aga Khan University Hospital’s department of psychiatrist Murad Moosa Khan said human dignity was the most important human right from which all other fundamental rights stemmed that included freedom from violence and abuse, freedom from discrimination, the right to have a sense of autonomy and self-determination, inclusion in community life as well as right to make decisions.

Unfortunately in Pakistan, he regretted, human rights were regularly violated and citizens were treated with indignity. “The country has failed to address some of the basic social problems such as an acute lack of education and health facilities, unstable law and order situation, increasing population growth and lack of economic stability that have led to high levels in society,” he said.

These key issues combined with high prevalence of psychiatric disorders, ignorance surrounding mental disorders and lack of treatment facilities for psychiatry illnesses posed a huge challenge to meet, he added.

He was of the opinion that dignity could be brought in mental health with collective efforts of civil society organisations through lobbying the government to enact required legislation and implement it as well as by increasing public awareness of mental health.

Giving a presentation highlighting how fast urbanisation is increasing social stress in a city like Karachi, chairperson of the Institute of Business Administration’s department of social Sciences Dr Huma Baqai said that for the first time in history, more than 50pc of world population lived in urban areas and by 2050, 70pc of the world population would be living in towns and cities that showed how rapidly the urban population was growing.

Citing some estimates, she said Karachi’s population grew by 115pc between 1998 and 2011, from 9.8 million to 21.2 million people whereas the population was reported to be 0.43 million in the 1941 census.

“This rapid pace of urbanisation has turned Karachi into a sick city. This is because urbanisation has taken place without planning and about 60pc of Karachi’s population live in unplanned settlements,” she said.

Lack of adequate transportation system, increasing noise pollution, volatile political economy with ethnic and communal violence, unstable economic conditions, high unemployment, increasing resource gap and poor governance had contributed to mental stress, she explained.

Some of the suggestions put forward by the Mental Health Forum at the programme included increase in government health budget to 6pc of the gross domestic product, out of which at least 1pc is allocated for mental health and intervention of Higher Education Commission and Pakistan Medical and Dental Council to encourage and incentivise psychiatric and psychological education in higher education centres of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, October 17th , 2015

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