What Pakistan Needs Now: Sanity

The past weekend saw the arrival of TEDx to Karachi. And it would be no understatement to say that the truly spectacular event took the local TED enthusiasts by storm (no pun intended to the tropical storm ‘Phet’, which despite its best efforts was unable to dampen the spirits of our organizers). The event was executed in style and gave its attendees a lot of food for thought on this one throbbing question: ‘What Pakistan Needs Now?’ The speakers touched upon tolerance, justice, leadership, women empowerment, interconnection, energy, innovation, hope and similar much needed qualities and resources that Pakistan needs now. The winning video short by Ali Kapadia summarized it pretty nicely: what we need the most is imagination and innovation. As I sat there, inspired (and that’s saying something about our remarkable speakers, because I’m not an easy person to inspire), an inescapable thought came to my mind, and it is something which we as a society tend to overlook most of the time: What Pakistan Needs Now is also a bit of ‘sanity’.

Mental health policies are a fundamental and necessary means for the promotion of mental health awareness in any given population. W.H.O. studies reveal that 40.5% of the countries have no mental health policy at all. Is Pakistan one of them? Well, almost. Pakistan’s mental health policy was first formulated as late as 1997. It aimed at addressing issues of advocacy, promotion, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and inter-sectional collaboration. It set out to produce trained care providers, to establish resource centers at teaching psychiatric hospitals and detoxification centers. It also provided for crisis intervention and counseling services, special facilities for mentally handicapped and up gradation of large mental hospitals. But the said policy is not comprehensive and even today a very meager percentage of the total health care expenditure is allocated towards mental health budget.

The mental troubles effecting Pakistan range from the increasing suicide rates due to severe depression caused by the various hardships faced by our poverty-stricken masses to personality and mood disorders like borderline personality and ‘bipolar disorder’ emergence in our young people. I personally think that a scientific explanation to the rising religious extremism among our youth may well be explained in parts by the phenomenon of ‘spiritual emergency’ combined with the witnessing of atrocities and injustices handled to Muslims all over the world. Spiritual Emergency is a form of identity crisis where an individual experiences drastic changes to their meaning system (i.e. their unique purposes, goals, values, attitude, beliefs, identity and focus, typically because of a spontaneous spiritual experience), which may result in unreasonable actions.

The stigmatization of mental illnesses in Pakistani society is another obstacle that must be overcome if we are to help out those that suffer. Common beliefs in Pakistani culture, where mental illnesses are attributed to supernatural phenomenon, left at the mercy of spiritual healers and local versions of shamans and witch doctors. Arguably, the stigmas have lifted to some extent and educated Pakistanis now hesitate less to approach mental health treatment, when and if needed. But access to common man is still very limited as psychiatric health care provisions are rare and usually expensive to afford.

The Diathesis-Stress Model which is used to explain the cause of many otherwise unexplained mental illness, implies in simplified terms, that a physical condition makes a person more than usually susceptible to certain diseases and depending upon the stresses of his or her life, the illness may or may not appear. Durand and Barlow highlight that specific stressful conditions are required to produce a disorder. Pakistan, right now has more than her fair share of ‘stressful conditions’: poverty, lack or resources, emotional and social conflicts, global isolation, terrorism and sectarian violence , child abuse and sexual harassment, are just a few to name. Dawn.com reported last month that Pakistani psychologists have issued conflict health warning. It stated that ‘With thousands of casualties in the conflict between the Taliban and the army, the psychological toll has largely gone unnoticed.’

Putting aside all medical jargon, I truly believe that Pakistan is perhaps one of the most unique societies of this world. Our problems, our inner conflicts, our exposure and our challenges put our young generation at a much greater risk of developing mental health problems. 65% of Pakistanis today are under the age of 29. So what I’m really trying to say is: what Pakistan needs now is also a sense of sanity, an awareness to mental health issues, a need to remove negative stigmas and an end to the silent suffering of our mentally ill; which may amount to only 10% of the total population today but if we don’t start working towards this cause soon, we may very well have on our hands a rapid increase in mental health illnesses in the coming future. We need to do more than just commemorate a ‘World Mental Health Day’ every year, while our policies regarding mental health lay dormant, because God knows, we cannot afford the luxury to lose our heads in the face of burdens and challenges of being a Pakistani.






7 responses to “What Pakistan Needs Now: Sanity”

  1. Aamer Iqbal Avatar

    This is indeed a serious matter. Young people belonging to salaried backgrounds, and those in the lower economic strata are frustrated by inflation and the inability to find a way out of despondency. Many want to live within their means, but the "need" to own a certain brand item, dine at a certain eatery in order to "belong" becomes too much. Parents' inability or unwillingness to cater to these desires adds to the stress.

  2. Hatim Avatar


    "…..personally think that a scientific explanation to the rising religious extremism among our youth may well be explained in parts…."

    Yeah, I don't think you like to understand the reason. Thats why people like you come up with reasons like poverty, illitracy and now pschological problems as the reason of rebellion.

    Why can't you see oppression as the reason?

    1. Fatima Ajmal Avatar
      Fatima Ajmal

      The 2nd half of the same sentence you've picked out of context goes like this: "combined with witnessing the atrocities handled to Muslims all over the world".

      You are 100% correct that oppression is a cause. Causes can be varied as per our own personal observations and point of view but we need to see how we choose to react to these tall challenges. We all know the situation is bad, now let's find out the best way to handle it. If worry and unreasonable actions outcome of stress were any good, we'd all be very happy and content people.

  3. Jawad Ahmed Avatar
    Jawad Ahmed

    PPP government has started fulfilling its promises made with the people and budget for the year 2010-11 is an example of it. The raise in the salaries; pension and minimum wages of labourers in different circumstances reflect success of Pakistan People’s Party in presenting this pro-poor budget for the next fiscal year. I congratulate President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani for their success in this regard. We can rightly expect that the time is fast coming when we would overcome all of our economic concerns under the present sincere and wise leadership of the country. The opposition parties should also support the sincere efforts of the PPP government and should also avoid creating hurdles in the way of economic progress of the country by raising negative voices.

  4. Sakib Ahmad Avatar

    Re. Jawad Ahmed's sycophantic drivel:

    In the context of this article which deals with a grave national problem, I felt sick on reading these meaningless lines which the author has probably posted on several blogs and websites. He is the kind of Pakistani who gives Pakistan a bad name.

    If any post needed to be deleted for sheer bad taste it is this servile buttering up of two incompetent fools with criminal tendencies.

  5. Jalal HB Avatar

    Yes I agree in totality – we do need sanity after all what we are going through. But at the same time, the few "educated" should also find out reasons why we are different from the rest of the world. Why everyone treats us differently – are we really different?

    1. readinglord Avatar

      We are no doubt different as the very name of our country, called, Pakistan and its citizens, called 'Pakies' are bigoted, whereas the Quran-e-Hakeem says, "Fala Tazaku unfosikum" (Apne aap ko pak mat kaho).