Mental health: stigma in our society

The Nation  |  Feb 26, 2021

"Mental health is not a quotidian topic that needs discussion", presumes most of the Pakistani households. In our society, where physical health of a person is routinely observed and talked about, his mental health usually goes unnoticed. Unfortunately, the reasons for this are not common and lack of awareness leads people to label it a stigma. Many people, especially the elders, opine that things like mental illness or anxiety disorders do not exist and they are just a creation of one's own mind. According to them, a person feels anxious or depressed because he thinks too much or is ungrateful. When he does not see a blessing coming in, he gets depressed because he sees others around him being continually blessed. 

This fact is true to some extent especially when we take into account the excessive usage of social media prevalent among the youth. But, this still does not justify the ignorance being meted out to those who suffer from mental health issues.  It would absolutely be a cruel idea to deny mental illness just because of unobvious reasons people don't know about and to simply regard it a "melodrama" created by those who suffer. 

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Why mental health issues are not treated seriously? Well, the answer to this is quite simple. When we deny the existence of something, we would never think about its solutions. Since mental health disorders are not being readily accepted and treated on similar grounds as physical disorders, the remedies to counter it are a few. On the top of it, our society has attached a stigma with having anxiety and depression and has made people think that they would be considered "abnormal" and "mentally handicapped" if they ever think of seeking help against it. Instead of providing a listening ear to them, we tend to make them uncomfortable, declaring their feelings incapacitated. 

Owing to the stigma associated with mental health disorders, more and more mental health issues such as suicides, anxiety disorders, puerperal psychosis, mood disorders, schizophrenia are increasingly on the rise and there is neither any planning nor specific preparedness to control it. Perhaps, given the level of delinquency people show towards this issue, mental illness is regarded to be the leading cause of death by 2030. 

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Stating the abysmal condition of Pakistan among other countries, World Health Organization claims that in Pakistan, mental disorders contribute more than 4% in total disease burden, with mental health burden higher among women. It is also observed that 24 million people in Pakistan are in need of psychiatric assistance while there are only 0.19 psychiatrists per 10,000 inhabitants. With such poor statistics and low preparedness level, our country would not only lag behind other nations in providing viable mental health services, but would also produce an overall weak health sector that would be inefficient to ensure a healthy life of its citizens. 

For it to deliver proper health services to its people , Pakistan needs to spend more percentage of its GDP on the institution of health and plan to put more emphasis on mental health illness, extracting various remedies for it. The mental health community should be formed that should collaborate with NGOs and all other related parties including civil society activists, media personnel, and other youth members who are working for this cause in order to raise awareness about mental health disorders. There is only one way to stop its stigmatization, and that is only achievable through accepting the fact that it exists.  This acceptance can only be achieved through making people aware about it as its unacceptability only adds more pain to the affected ones.

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When people would become aware about mental health, they would talk openly about it. By showing compassion to those who suffer, they would encourage them to seek help they need and promote their mental well-being. It should not be forgotten that it is people who created stigmas around mental illness and it is only they who would actually remove it.

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