Stigma around mental illness is not a new phenomenon. People know of only few severe mental conditions which are often depicted by extremely violent and incoherent inmates of mental hospitals. Although, for past many years, mental health day is celebrated on October 10 where public forums inform people about common mental illnesses, this information has not done much to normalize the experience of mental illness. In fact, people have learnt to associated mental health with just “mental illness”. According to the World Health Organization’s definition of Health, “Health is a complete state of wellbeing and not merely absence of disease or infirmity” This definition informs the public health approach to be more inclusive rather than limiting its focus to psychopathology only. People should also be educated about the meaning of a “fully functioning person” or a complete state of wellbeing.

Like every year, Mental Health Week was celebrated at the department of Psychology, University of Karachi during 23 – 27 October 2017.

The Lead organizer of the mental health week, faculty member and psychologist at the department of Psychology, Ms. Zahra Ali informed the audience, “Mental Health is not just about depression or schizophrenia, it is about how contented individuals feel in their lives and how effective they are in bouncing back after a set-back. A normal student, housewife, employee and in fact all individuals have mental health . When we neglect our mental health , the debris of ignorance piles up and gradually manifests into severe bodily or emotional symptoms. To recognize the holistic nature of mental health , we decided to endorse a theme which encapsulates wellbeing and its relevance to all human beings. Thus, the theme this year for mental health week at the department of psychology was The Secret to a Happy Life – A step toward wellbeing”

The Grand event of ‘The Mental Health Week’ took place on October 24, 2017, wherein the Arts Lobby, UoK housed an exhibition of poster art competition entries, educational stalls by the sponsors of ‘The Mental Week’, Karwan-e-Hayat, Pakistan Institute of Living and Learning (PILL), Surge Laboratories, Berlitz and ‘The Recovery House’ and Basic Needs, Pakistan.

The event started off with students, faculty members and notable guests viewing the exhibit. The Chairperson of Visual Studies department, UoK, Ms. Durriya and Prof. Dr Anjum Ara of Department of Psychology judged the poster art competition. Ayesha Bismah, Saniya Shahzad and Tayyaba Mushtaq were awarded first, second and third positions respectively.

The panel discussion was moderated by Ms. Zahra Ali, Lead organizer, faculty member and psychologist at the Department of Psychology. The panel of experts included: Dr. Saadia Qureshi (Chair Basic Needs Pakistan, Trustee Aman Foundation), Dr. Uzma Ambareen (Sr. Psychiatrist and vice president of Pakistan Association of Mental Health), Dr. Majid Ali Abidi (Sr. Psychiatrist and Head of Psychiatry department, Hamdard University), Ms. Rubina Feroz (Sr. Psychologist, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Karachi), Dr. Nargis Asad (Sr. Psychologist, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University) and Dr. Ayesha Abbas (Nutritionist and member of Pakistan Nutrition and Dietic Society). 

The purpose of the discussion was chiefly to address the wellbeing of young adults, and highlight the risk and protective factors related to mental health . The discussion emphasized the role of stress coping and utilization of resources in improving wellbeing. Suicide awareness and risk factors were also talked about.

Vice Chancellor of the University of Karachi, Prof. Dr. Mohammed Ajmal Khan was the honorable chief guest in the event, and the Dean of Social Science, Prof, Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Qadri was the guest of honor.

The Chairperson of Department of Psychology, Prof. Dr. Farah Iqbal in her welcome address said, “It's a million-dollar question when we ask how we can be happy. The reason we fail to answer this question is because we're trying to find it in future - our delaying sense of happiness”.

Professor Ajmal Khan, appreciated the department for the diversity of experts invited for panel discussion which included psychologists, psychiatrists and a nutritionist on one forum, and said that this was a good step toward removing stigma in Mental Health

He emphasized that “superficial ambition without hard work and tolerance for failure, wanting to get everything at once can lead to distress. “Expectation beyond capacity causes mental distress”

According to Ms. Rubina, a healthy person knows how to cope with stress and can see light at the end of tunnel.

Moreover, Dr. Uzma clarified that mind is something that exists within brain but it is also something beyond brain. Mind and body has a reciprocal relationship. Consequently, Dr. Ayesha Abbas emphasized the importance of a healthy diet in achieving a healthy mind and vice versa.

According to Dr. Nargis Asad, "Expectations are piling up on our youth. Academic demands, peer pressure and Society issues have burdened our youth greatly. It's time we start taking the burden off". She recommended that mental health is about prevention of illness and also about promotion of healthy habits. In case of youth, the approach should focus on their significant others. It is important to teach adolescents to be mindful of their emotions and parents to start listening to their children respectfully before responding.

Dr. Saadia Qureshi said that the hopelessness in youth is a cumulative effect of family environment as well as personal temperament. Our society does not teach its young people the language for communicating emotions. This lack of emotional recognition suffocates individuals. It was further discussed that adolescents and young adults are not taught how to cautiously use social media, relationships and failures. When they enter a life full of academic and social pressures, they succumb and may be at risk of developing mental illness, suicidal tendencies and anti-social behaviors. Schools, colleges and universities should talk about emotional health and open ways to seek help.

Shedding light on the topic of youth issues, Dr. Majid Ali Abidi elaborated, "We've set unhealthy targets. We as parents do not want anything less than the best of grades. How they adjust in society is not our concern". He confessed that counseling is the building block of social support and should be sought not only during mental illness but anytime a person feels emotionally overwhelmed. Moreover, getting oneself treated for mental illness is just like getting hypertension or diabetes treated. It is like any other physical condition.

Ms. Zahra Ali concluded the panel discussion by informing the audience that we should be vigilant and take the first step in helping a peer who may be surrounded by looming emotional darkness.

A thanking note was delivered by the former chairperson, department of psychology, Dr. Anila Amber Malik. Shields were presented to the sponsors and panelists as a token of appreciation. The guests were served lunch in the department.