LAHORE - Mental diseases have reached alarming proportions owing to socio-economic worries of the public at large with the government not playing its due role to check the growing problems.

This phenomenon has not come about in days but in years when the different parties ruled the country. They seldom showed interest to safeguard mental health of the masses. Besides social issues, a section of people is suffering ill mental health due to genetic problems. However, such people are far less than those mentally hit by soaring prices of commodities, poverty, unemployment, load shedding, traffic mess, stressful working conditions. These factors are contributing to the mental sickness of the majority of the population.

According to the Pakistan Psychological Association, there is an epidemic of mental illness as 40 per cent of the population suffers from mild to moderate level of neurotic disorders, specially generalized anxiety disorder.

Globally, depression affects 20 percent of people while in Pakistan it’s more serious with an estimate of 34 percent. Both genetic and environmental factors play role in its pathogenesis. Around 35.7 per cent citizens of Karachi, 43 per cent from Quetta and 53.4 per cent from Lahore are affected with this mental illness.

If not addressed properly with the counselling from qualified psychiatrist/physician, mild mental illness could become serious and life-threatening neurological disorder.

Alarmingly, there is a dearth of qualified psychiatrists and neurologists to deal with the patients at early stage. Similarly, neurosurgeons are far less than the requirement of huge population needing surgery to lead a normal life.

Head of Neurosurgery Punjab Institute of Neurosciences/Lahore General Hospital Prof Khalid Mahmood said that unfortunately no reliable data of disease burden was available but certainly situation was alarming. He said only 300 neurosurgeons were available to cater the requirements of the whole country of 220 million people. As such, he said, one neurosurgeon was available for 720,000 people and this ratio was 8 to 10 times less than in western countries. Similarly, he said, neurosurgery facility was limited to big cities only. Specialized centres both in public and private sector could be counted on fingers, he said, adding, MRI/CT-Scan facilities at DHQ level have increased diagnosis of tumours that enhanced workload on specialized centres like PINS.

“Patients need to wait for a long time for surgical procedures due to long waiting list. There is need of producing more surgeons and providing facility at DHQ level to share burden of hospitals like LGH”, said Prof Khalid Mahmood who introduced Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) technique in Pakistan for treatment of Parkinson’s disease.  He has so far carried out more than 50 successful procedures through DBS.

“There is need of improving facilities at tertiary care hospitals. DHQ hospitals should be attached with nearest teaching hospitals for televised interaction. It will help treating patients at local level that will ultimately decrease burden on tertiary care hospitals”, he said.

“Prevalence of mental diseases is alarmingly high, particularly in big cities like Lahore. Every second person, whether male or female, is victim of mild to moderate mental illness due to socio-economic factors. Low income and more expenses of households is causing domestic disputes, badly affecting mental health of females”, said Dr Abdul Rauf, adding, such issues should be taken seriously and addressed at initial stage to avoid further complications. He said that mild mental illness like depression and anxiety could lead to serious neurological disorder besides resulting in non-communicable diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiac diseases. 

“Depression is the root cause of many mental disorders and sickness. Depression can be prevented and treated. Treatment usually involves either a talking therapy or antidepressant medication or a combination of both,” he said.

“People with depression normally have symptoms like loss of energy, change in appetite, sleeping more or less, anxiety, reduced concentration, indecisiveness, restlessness, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide,” he added.

Load-shedding, unavailability of potable water, unemployment, traffic problems, intolerance, insecurity and law and order situation are also the factors behind increase in mental diseases in a country like Pakistan. There are a number of factors that may increase the chance of depression. Past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can cause depression later in life.

“Mental illness is a taboo in our society. There is need of accepting it as a reality. The state of psychiatric services is dismal in Pakistan. The government should fulfil its responsibility and take appropriate measures for mental well-being of the masses. Steps must be taken to overcome the dearth of qualified psychiatrists in the country,” said Dr Tariq, a psychiatrist running his clinic in Lahore.

“Common mental disorders are increasing worldwide. The number of people suffering from depression and anxiety has increased by more than 50 per cent during the last 10 years. It affects people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living,” he said.