Pakistan sees 30pc surge in mental illnesses due to COVID-19

Country has only 600 trained psychiatrists for 210m population

Picture for illustrative purposes only

Pakistan has seen a 30 percent spike in mental illnesses caused by the coronavirus in recent months, recent surveys and health specialists said.

The latest survey conducted by the Sindh Mental Health Authority, a state-run government organization that provides mental health services in Sindh, showed that depression and suicidal thoughts were the major problems that developed among coronavirus patients or even those who had recovered.

Senator Karim Khawaja, who heads the mental authority, told Anadolu Agency that around 40 percent of the 1,500 survey respondents had reported suffering from low to high depression after being infected with the coronavirus. Some 25 percent admitted to having suicidal thoughts after becoming infected or even after recovering from illness, Khawaja, a professional psychologist, added.

Pakistan reported its first coronavirus case in March 2020 and has since registered over 1.23 million cases, with more than 29,000 deaths. The country has been currently battling a fifth wave of the COVID-19, along with the rising omicron variant cases across the country, mainly in Sindh province.

Addressing a seminar in Karachi on Sunday, national and international experts said the country had seen a 30 percent surge in mental ailments due to the coronavirus, which had triggered psychiatric ailments in people who were already prone to mental health issues.

Prof. Dr. Asim Shah, the executive vice chair of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, US, said at least 25 to 30 percent increase in mental health issues was observed in Pakistan during the pandemic, as the virus also triggered mental illness in people who recovered from the infectious disease.

Seconding the figures, College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan Faculty of Psychiatry Dean Prof Iqbal Afridi said the coronavirus has a significant impact on mental health. Afridi, who is also the editor of the Journal of Pakistan Psychiatric Society, told Anadolu Agency that job insecurity, unemployment, and other related issues caused by the pandemic had impacted the mental health of the middle and lower-income brackets of society.

“As a doctor, I have personally seen a cognizable increase in the number of patients (suffering from mental ailments),” he added. Afridi observed that the South Asian nuclear country was reeling from an acute shortage of trained psychiatrists and mental health institutes.

“Currently, Pakistan has 600 psychiatrists, which is insufficient for a population of 210 million, in which mental illnesses are on the rise due to several social and economic reasons,” he maintained, adding that only in the US and UK, over 1,500 Pakistani psychiatrists are working. At least, he added, the country must have over 9,000 psychiatrists to deal with the rising figures of patients suffering from mental illnesses.

The government, he believes, should announce some “incentives” not only for the young doctors to specialize in this field but also for qualified psychiatrists to encourage them so that they do not leave the country.

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