Health experts assess that every fifth person in the country suffers from a mental health problem, and due to a social stigma surrounding mental health, more than 75% of them do not receive proper treatment. Furthermore, access to psychiatrists is also limited as there is only one psychiatrist per 400,000 people, most of whom are in urban areas.
Although mental health is a major crisis like floods or pandemics, it's invisible and not a national priority, said mental health experts at a panel discussion hosted by the Aga Khan University's Brain and Mind Institute.
The event was organised to break the silence and speak about suicide and suicidal acts in Pakistan.
An award-winning short film 'Darya Kay Iss Paar' was screened earlier. The film, produced by Nighat Akbar Shah, an investor and philanthropist, depicts the typical cultural and psychological factors contributing to mental ill health and suicidal acts.
The film follows the story of a young girl who feels alone, unheard and uncared for. The pressures that began when she was a student compound after she married. No one in her life acknowledges her feelings or thoughts. Instead, rigid social values and norms add fuel to the fire.
"It gets more difficult for women because they are confined to the bottom of the societal structure. We should look more closely into the causes of mental health problems," said Nighat during the panel discussion
"The film is a narrative of hope amid a valley fraught with grief and despair. It is thought-provoking and acts as a lightning rod to draw our attention to suicide prevention," commented Dr Zul Merali, the Founding Director of the Brain and Mind Institute.
"We all need to recognise that suicide is preventable. However, we must accept it is not a static, an unchanging fact of life. Each member of the community has a role to play in suicide prevention. It's not something that can be left solely to the health sector. Schools, media organisations, Government and the public at large can contribute to ensuring that those at risk get the help and support they need. The Government needs to put mental health as one of the top priorities on the national agenda before it's too late," stressed Dr Merali.
"Nighat Akbar Shah's film is just one example of a new willingness to break the silence and take action to prevent suicide in Pakistan," said AKU President Dr Sulaiman Shahabuddin in his video message.
Other speakers and panellists included Dr Murad M. Khan, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, AKU; Shagufta Hassan, CEO, Outreach Health Network, Aga Khan University Hospital; and Falak Madhani, Head of Programmes and Research, Aga Khan Health Services, Pakistan.