Free mental health helplines in pakistan: a dire need of the day

Lahore:  Mental health in Pakistan has remained a subject of debate since the last few years. The incidence and prevalence have both increased tremendously in the background of growing insecurity, terrorism, financial problems, political uncertainty, unemployment and disruption of the social fabric.

According to a report published by United Nations, 24 million people in Pakistan need mental health treatment.

Unfortunately, due to low income and social stigma attached to mental issues’ treatment, many people do not have access to mental health-care and specialists.

Pakistan, one of the ninth most populous countries of the world, has been experiencing both general and mental health problems. The country is far behind from the developed countries in terms of trained mental health professionals, available psychiatric beds, provision of supportive healthcare, resourcing, infrastructure and above all effective leadership to run the services efficiently in order to meet the current challenges.

Mental Health Ordinance (MHO) of 2001 has marginally improved the management and service provision towards mental health but there are still some areas which need attention.

A Federal Mental Health Authority was also established under the MHO to develop national standards of care for patients but still access to free/low cost mental health is non-existent. It has one of the lowest mental health patient to doctor ratios in the world. There are less than 400 trained psychiatrist nation-wide which is approximately one psychiatrist per half million people.

In the wake of this problem, private organizations have taken a step forward and established mental health helplines in Pakistan for people with depression, anxiety and mental issues.

One such initiative has been taken by a life coach Adeel Chaudhry who has started a 24 hours helpline, Talktome. This helplines provides professional counseling 24/7 by trained psychologists. He claims it to be Pakistan’s first mental health helplines established in 2016.

While talking to Truth Tracker, Adeel said, “Talktome is a service which provides clinical psychology services to people.” It has three objectives; first, to help people find the reason of their anxiety and depression and then treat it through regular sessions. Most of the callers are females.

He said that such helplines are so common in the West. “It prevents people from committing suicide or from taking any extreme step. But unfortunately, Pakistan is still lagging behind in helping people,” said Adeel.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Rabia Usman while talking to Truth Tracker said, “Females ranging from 13 to 35 suffer the most from clinical depression. Marital rape, physical and verbal abuse are such factors which lead them to either become sadists or attempt suicide.” She says there is also a stigma attached to the treatment of unmarried women as parents think that they will not get married if they would go to a psychologist’s clinic.

“These taboos have prevented our women from going to doctors physically. Such helplines provide easy access to counseling in privacy.”

Recently, the death of model Anam Tanoli that has ignited focus onto mental health. President Dr. Arif Alvi has entailed a 24/7 helpline for those suffering from depression.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader had turned to Twitter to condole the death of the model while bringing to light a much-needed provision of a 24/7 mental health helpline.

“Millions of people especially women under different socio-economic pressures face depression and some commit suicide. Psychiatric help should be readily available including a 24/7 helpline,” stated his tweet.

Government needs to take robust actions to prevent suicides especially among youth.

Another such helpline for people with mental health has also been established in Karachi. Taskeen is an initiative which provides knowledge of holistic wellness and mental illness, facilitate the practice of healthy coping skills and improve access to interpersonal and professional support.

Media professional of Pakistan who face all kinds of stress and challenges are one of the biggest victims. Centre of Excellence in Journalism at Institute of Business and DW Akademie of Karachi has also set up a free counseling service for media workers as well.

CEJ’s coordinator Qurat-ul-Ain says, “We only have one psychologist and one psychiatrist. We received an enormous response but we cannot cater to a lot of people since we do not have many psychologists.” The CEJ also provides facility of advice through skype sessions but that is only 8 hours a week.

Qurat demanded that media houses should facilitate their employees and provide free mental health services.

Karwan e Hayat, a non-profit organization has worked diligently in providing services to poor and underprivileged mentally ill patients. Over 80% of patients receive treatment and rehabilitation services for free or heavily subsidized rates.

These organizations are solely based on donations thus have a limited resources to help the vast majority of people suffering from mental illnesses.

There is a dire need of such helplines which people think is a must especially youth who is suffering because of extreme social pressure.

Students of Punjab University talked to Truth Tracker and expressed their desire for such helplines to not only counter but prevent extreme acts like suicides.

Sara, a fine arts student said, “I go to a psychologist but he charges a lot. 1 session costs Rs.2000. I cannot afford that much. If free or cheap help is available online then I would definitely go for it.”

Ahmed, also a fine arts’ student believes that students need to vent out their frustrations so they can relax.

As far as government is concerned, Pakistan has a no clear mental health policy. There are hardly any organized studies on mental health morbidity, and there is no compulsion on hospitals to send vital statistical information to the central bureau of statistics. The information about existing services is not fully available with the government and hence it is deprived of the vital information in connection with aforementioned services and individual contribution.

Producing show case documents just for the sake of creating pseudo-impression will lead us to nowhere as it is high time when mental health helplines availability should be taken seriously.

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