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Let’s Start Talking About Mental Health And Then Walk The Talk

Mental heath is not taken seriously in Pakistan and depression is not treated as an illness. Depression can have a profound effect on the functioning of individuals at school, work and every aspect of life. It is time to start talking about it, writes Sadiq Naveed.

‘Mood’ is a widely-used term in our daily lives. There is a range of terms used to define or describe mood such as feeling sad, blue, low, empty, nervous, anxious, angry and happy.  An average person can experience all these feelings and emotions in a single day. These emotional changes can be reactive to the daily stress of life. However, some people may struggle with abnormally low mood, irritability or nervousness. These people with mood disorders or affective disorders have a distinct quality to their mood and it is different than usual variations in mood.

Mood disorders have a wide range of symptoms lasting for a certain duration with a significant impairment of functioning. Unlike common view, mood disorders are relatively common with depression being one of the common mental health disorders.

Depression is a frequently common disorder regardless of gender, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, age range, professions, and religious affiliations.

The WHO estimated that about 300 million people are affected by depression globally. The frequency of depression range from 5-17% in different research studies with women at a higher risk for depression. The prevalence of depression is twice in women compared to men. This difference in the prevalence of depression is attributed to hormonal differences, stress related to childbirth, and gender disparity in different psycho-social circumstances.

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The prevalence of depression was estimated to be around 44% in Pakistan according to a news report published in Express Tribune. It was reported to be 57.5% in women and 25% in men. Though this seems quite high compared to the global data, it is consistent with a study conducted in three capital provinces of Pakistan including Lahore, Quetta, and Karachi. In this study, Lahore had the highest frequency of depression (53.4%) compared to Quetta (43.9%) and Karachi (35.7%).

This study reported that middle age, female gender and secondary school level of education were at a higher risk of depression in the study group. Depression starts around teenage years in girls with a later age of onset of depression for boys. A recent study conducted by our research group estimated that a total of 35.80% reported mild depressive symptoms, 19.50% moderate, 7.30% moderately severe and 4.20% severe depression in youth enrolled in 7th to 10th grade in Pakistan.

Depression can have a profound effect on the functioning of individuals at school, work and every aspect of life. Patients with depression can have trouble focusing, feeling tired, and decreased interest in activities. All these symptoms can affect their performance in school or work. Hence, people with depression lose productivity, have frequent absences from work and school, or trouble enjoying their work.

Sometimes, these individuals are unable to reach their full potential. It is important to keep in mind that it is harder to detect the effects of depression on work performance as most people try to hide them to keep having the earning. Considering the impact of depression, it is ranked as the third leading cause of disability around the world.

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The effect of depression can be on every walk of life including physical health of a person. It increases the risk of several other physical illnesses including heart diseases, cancers, and obesity. Most importantly, two-thirds of patients with depression have suicidal ideations, thoughts of dying, or not wanting to live.

About 10-15% of people with depression attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Despite the significant impact on the daily lives of individuals and a significant public health cost, there is a limited focus on mental health in Pakistan.

In resource-limited countries like Pakistan, only 35% of individuals suffering from anxiety or depression receive care. This can be attributed to limited awareness, stigma towards mental illnesses, and lack of access to care. Despite the higher prevalence of mental health illnesses like depression, the total number of psychiatrists is 250 in Pakistan. This number is insufficient to meet the rising demands for mental health care. It is time to increase awareness about mental health illnesses like depression which are treatable illnesses. The policymakers, legislators, and academia need to make mental health a priority along with physical health illnesses.

Let’s start talking about mental health and then walk the talk.

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Naya Daur