THE economic and psychological effects of Covid-19, combined with the issues of joblessness and inflation, have had a profoundly negative impact on the mental health of many people. There have been a number of tragic incidents where these factors have pushed people over the edge, before they could get help. The case of Faheem Mughal appears to be one such case. The former media worker, who had lost his job and was reportedly driving a rickshaw to make ends meet, took his own life in Karachi last week after being unable to provide for his family. He leaves behind a wife and six children.

This tragedy reflects the difficulties many in this country are coping with, and which have been exacerbated by the effects of lockdowns, a slowdown in economic activity and galloping inflation. It also highlights how these factors are having a major effect on people’s mental health and the urgent measures that are needed to prevent vulnerable individuals from taking extreme steps. Indeed, the roll-out of a public awareness campaign focusing on the signs of mental illness, particularly depression, is crucial to teaching the public how they can spot trouble in vulnerable individuals including family members, friends and colleagues at work. Moreover, helplines — staffed by mental health professionals — need to be activated and publicised so that expert advice is accessible on these issues. Sometimes a phone call to such a service can be the difference between life and death as competent professionals can talk vulnerable individuals out of their intention of taking extreme steps. Public service messages can help remove the stigma attached to mental health issues, and urge loved ones to take patients to qualified individuals instead of quacks, unlicensed concerns and faith healers. Unfortunately, the shortage of mental health professionals in Pakistan has been described as ‘critical’; it is a concern that must be addressed on a priority basis. The federation and the provinces should work together on stepping up efforts to prevent desperate people from harming themselves in these difficult times.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2021

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