Depression, stress on the rise among Karachi youth, say researchers

Published March 21, 2022
Cutting-edge technologies involving artificial intelligence are being used to carry out different experiments on humans at the Neurocomputation Lab of the NED University of Engineering and Technology. The aim is to analyse brain dynamics in order to provide technological solutions to improve quality of life. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Cutting-edge technologies involving artificial intelligence are being used to carry out different experiments on humans at the Neurocomputation Lab of the NED University of Engineering and Technology. The aim is to analyse brain dynamics in order to provide technological solutions to improve quality of life. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: A latest scientific study, which is part of a world-level publication, has found that levels of depression, anxiety and stress are growing mainly among the young population of Karachi.

The impact of Covid-19 pandemic has further worsened the psychological situation as in some cases the number of people suffering from such conditions has increased by 40 per cent.

The facts emerged in the data collected through a scientific research being conducted by the NED University of Engineering and Technology that had studied more than 3,000 individuals at its Neurocomputation Lab, which is one of the nine facilities set up under the National Centre of Artificial Intelligence (NCAI).

The study, experts believe, would help devise new modified strategies on diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues.

“We carried out the study on 3,000 individuals,” said Dr Muhammad Abul Hasan, associate professor at the biomedical engineering department of NED University.

Study conducted by NED University’s AI lab on 3,000 individuals will help treat mental issues

He said: “In post-Covid scenario we have found that issues of anxiety and stress have increased between 35pc to 40pc after the pandemic hit the country. This increase of percentage has been found among those who are suffering from mild and moderate psychological issues.

“The alarming thing is that we have also recorded extreme and severe cases and in this category we have found that 28pc cases of depression have increased followed by 27pc in anxiety and 22pc in stress,” Dr Hasan said.

Despite being an engineering university, the institution was working in fields of neurosciences and neuropsychology, where the teams of researchers were exploring ‘neurological biomarkers’ of mental health, he added.

The part of the study, he said, also required that how all these biomarkers after being identified could be reversed.

Explaining neurological biomarkers, Dr Hasan, who is also the co-principal investigator at the Neuro Computation Lab, said: “Whenever we go through any psychological problem, it changes the brain patterns. There are regions in the brain. These regions have connections among them. After any psychological problem, these connections receive the impact. They may get stronger or in some cases weaker. Sometimes they disappear and sometimes new connections emerge. So basically we study these connections and analyse that they can be reversed.”

The experts believe once the research is compiled and becomes part of a global study, it would be a big achievement of Pakistani researchers, who are leading the exercise with international collaboration of the University of Glasgow, Stanford University, the Monash University Australia and the Denmark Technological University under the NCAI programme.

Vision 2025

The NCAI is the technological initiative of the federal government under its ‘Vision 2025’.

The centre is designed to become a leading hub of innovation, scientific research, knowledge transfer to the local economy, and training in the area of AI and its closely affiliated fields.

The aim of the centre is to facilitate researchers in the field of AI; help them establish and grow AI industry following international trends and seek solutions to the indigenous problems through AI.

Approved in January 2018, the NCAI is designed on a consortium model where the most leading researchers in the field of AI are identified on competitive grounds and new state-of-the-art laboratories are established under their supervision.

As research on the mental health issues in the wake of post-pandemic scenario enters the final phase, it has raised the hopes of researchers and experts that it would go a long way both for medical science professionals and health scientists.

‘Replace traditional treatment’

“The technology has two roles when it comes to health sciences,” said Dr Saad Ahmed Qazi, dean of faculty of computer engineering at the NED University.

“One is about diagnostic, where it helps you finding timely and accurate health issues and problems. The other is about remedial action. In technology, there are several neuro-modulation techniques, which can be used for effective and durable treatment.”

He said the university’s study would help replace the traditional way of treatment in mental health and it would gradually make things easy both for the medical science professionals and people suffering from such conditions.

“In mental health issues we largely see the counselling as one of the key tools for treatment. So we can say that it [technology] gives you an opportunity to go a step forward from the conventional way of treatment and here we can capitalise on the benefits of the technology which ultimately benefits a common man,” said Dr Qazi.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2022

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