KARACHI: Women health workers in Badin will provide mental health services at the doorstep of communities as part of a pilot study launched by Aga Khan University (AKU)’s researchers.

Badin district, according to a Sindh Mental Health Authority report, has the second-highest suicide rate in the province. Access to mental healthcare is a major challenge for people in rural parts of the district and treatment is often avoided due to the stigma attached to the condition.

Mental health practitioners are not available locally and accessing care from much-needed psychiatrists and psychologists requires travel to hospitals in megacities like Hyderabad and Karachi.

The first phase of the study will involve cases of anxiety and depression being identified through a survey of households in Badin.

Women health workers and supervisors will subsequently receive training in community mental health modules under the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Gap (mhGAP) intervention guide which has been specifically designed for use in non-specialized health settings.

The study will then see the staff apply their training and use mPareshan — a mobile health app — during household visits to provide counselling services, mood lifting exercises as well as tracking and referral of high risk cases to the next level of care.

“This study will provide an innovative technological solution to community-based mental health services through frontline healthcare workers.

Very few studies have described the burden of mental health problems in Pakistan. This will be a pioneering study to establish estimates of anxiety and depression at the population-level in a rural setting,” says Professor Fauziah Rabbani, the project’s principal investigator.

“Even though Pakistan is facing a rising burden of non-communicable diseases, mental health continues to be a neglected and overlooked area.”

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2021

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