Mental health is an emerging concern in Pakistan, a country where societal norms, cultural barriers, and a lack of awareness contribute to the marginalisation of mental health issues. Although the subject is gradually gaining attention in urban areas, much work remains to be done in understanding the complexities involved in mental health in this South Asian nation.
Historical context and cultural considerations
Traditionally, mental health in Pakistan has been stigmatised, often associated with shame or dishonour for families. The societal norms often deter individuals from seeking professional help. Even when they do, options are limited due to a significant gap in healthcare infrastructure.
Culture plays a significant role in how mental health is perceived in Pakistan. The emphasis on family reputation and social standing often leads to a suppression of individual mental health concerns.
Today, Pakistan faces a mental health crisis that is exacerbated by numerous challenges, including limited healthcare facilities, inadequate numbers of mental health professionals, and rampant misinformation. According to Pakistan Today, there is acute shortage of trained psychiatrists and psychologists in the country.
Misinformation about mental health is also rampant, which not only stigmatises those in need of help but also inhibits the correct dissemination of available treatments and interventions. All these elements converge to create an environment where mental health issues are often ignored or improperly treated, further deepening the crisis in the country.
Access to mental healthcare
Access to adequate mental health services is another pressing issue. Rural areas are particularly affected, as they often lack even basic healthcare facilities. In some cases, individuals have to travel long distances to get to a mental healthcare provider, making treatment virtually inaccessible for lower-income groups.
Government initiatives are in place to bridge this gap, but progress has been slow. Several NGOs are stepping up to offer mental health services and conduct awareness campaigns. However, these measures are mostly concentrated in urban centres.
Role of digital mental health platforms
The digital realm is also emerging as a resource for mental health in Pakistan. Online platforms are making it easier for individuals to access help anonymously, thus sidestepping societal stigma. While this is a promising development, a 2019 study raises concerns about the quality of these online services, particularly in terms of the qualifications of providers. This highlights the need for rigorous oversight and regulation to ensure that online platforms meet acceptable standards of care.
When compared globally, Pakistan’s mental health situation represents a confluence of systemic issues faced by many developing countries. Stigma, lack of resources, and inadequate policy measures make it a challenging environment for mental health advocacy and treatment.
International organisations such as the World Health Organization are collaborating with local agencies to address these challenges, but the pace of change is slow, making community-based solutions increasingly important.
Despite the challenges, there are glimmers of hope for mental health in Pakistan. Community initiatives, international collaborations, and a slowly shifting cultural perception offer a silver lining.
These collaborations are helping to provide training for mental health professionals and to extend outreach to communities that might otherwise go underserved. Alongside these tangible efforts, there’s a slow yet noticeable shift in cultural perception about mental health.
Increasing awareness campaigns and educational programmes are helping to dismantle the stigma associated with mental health issues, thereby making it more likely for individuals to seek help when needed. This confluence of community action, international support, and changing attitudes offers a promising path forward in addressing Pakistan’s mental health crisis.
Saira Ahmed is a mental health advocate and freelance writer based in Islamabad.