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            The Aga Khan University Hospital Pakistan

Empowering Mental Health: Opportunities and Challenges in Pakistan

<p>We currently live in a world where one in every eight individuals is battling mental health disorders, according to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2022). This alarming statistic suggests that mental health is not a selective affliction; it is a universal challenge and, unequivocally, a universal human right. </p><p>Mental health is an integral but often neglected aspect of our overall well-being, encompassing emotional, psychological, and social dimensions that shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. At the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) Karachi, the Department of Psychiatry offers specialized therapy clinics to manage a range of emotional and behavioral difficulties. These clinics provide services such as family therapy, parenting help, couples therapy, and individual therapy, addressing various aspects of mental health.</p><p>In the local context, challenges arising from poor socio-economic conditions, political instability, job insecurity, and inflation create daily hurdles for individuals, adversely affecting their mental well-being. In recent times, the COVID-19 pandemic, characterized by its disruptions, isolation, and loss, has highlighted the vulnerability of individuals&#39; psychological health. These difficulties often present as common signs and symptoms of deteriorating mental health but may not always meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder. However, they do signify a decline in health, leading to reduced productivity and a lower quality of life.</p><p>Common mental health challenges can include changes in mood, such as occasional sadness, heightened anxiety, irritability, social withdrawal, a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, or difficulty concentrating. It can also be accompanied by noticeable shifts in appetite, sleep patterns, and energy levels. When these signs and responses persist or intensify and start interfering with daily life, they could signify a deeper issue. More pronounced symptoms such as suicidal thoughts, self-harm, hallucinations, or severe disruptions require immediate attention by mental health professionals.
</p><p>Mental health and well-being remain broad concepts that need to be viewed on a continuum ranging from normal to intense reactions to stressful circumstances. This means that individuals will fluctuate throughout their lives in terms of how they respond to different situations. These responses are determined by the risk and protective factors that influence an individual&#39;s reaction to an event.</p><p>Risk factors for a person&#39;s susceptibility to develop a mental health disorder include individual, communal, and structural factors. Mental health conditions are a result of a &#39;complex interplay&#39; between all three categories. For example, early caregiver stress, childhood trauma, social and economic deprivation in the family, and living in unsafe neighborhoods could all contribute to negative mental health outcomes.</p><p>WHO&#39;s recent publication <em>World Mental Health Report: Transforming Mental Health for All</em> (2022) highlights the vicious cycle between poverty and mental health. The cycle identifies how different elements due to poverty such as poor parenting, domestic violence, school failures, and economic pressures can intertwine with mental health issues (such as substance use, self-harm, etc.). These factors can cumulatively increase the risk for individuals experiencing mental health disorders.                   </p><p>Research highlights the importance of early interventions, especially in children and adolescents, and suggests how they can make substantial differences in managing and improving mental health outcomes. These interventions can focus on symptom alleviation but also on the prevention of mental health illnesses by promoting healthy coping strategies. Examples of these can include stress management, creating structured routines, promoting positive relationships, engaging in physical and spiritual activities, and so forth.</p><p>In conclusion, the importance of investing more in mental health interventions and strategies at the national level cannot be overstated. There is also an ongoing need to foster awareness and eradicate the deeply ingrained stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health issues.
</p><p><strong> </strong></p><p><strong>Authors:</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Dr. Nargis Asad, Clinical Psychologist, Associate Professor and Interim Chair, Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University</p><p>Armeen Umer Godil, Psychologist and Senior Instructor, Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University</p><p>

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