Suicide prevention was the theme this World Mental Health Day
Experts say it’s not the single, middle-aged men as is the case in most western regions such as America and Europe. Instead, single men under the age of 30 and married women are most likely to take their own lives.
It’s become more important than ever for employers to foster a culture of acceptance where younger employees can share their worries without judgment.
“Workplaces should launch professional mentorship programmes for vulnerable youth to have someone they could seek advice from,” says Shagufta Hassan, the interim CEO of the Aga Khan University Hospital.
She also stressed the need for offices to provide counselling services where employees facing challenges could get additional help or be referred to professionals.
Mental illness is fast becoming a major public health issue. The Neurology Awareness and Research Foundation gives a tentative estimate of around 35% of the country’s population suffering from depression.
According to the organisation, every third person in Pakistan has depression.
The situation is especially alarming in Karachi, says Dr Muhammad Wasay, professor of neurology at the Aga Khan University, adding that the city has more than five million people living with depression and anxiety alone.
Despite the grave statistics, facilities of psychotherapy and counselling are woefully inadequate, lamented Professor Dr Iqbal Afridi, head of the psychiatry department at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.
Dr Afridi also blames environmental pollution for the rise in mental illness.
He says that though the legislation — the Mental Health Ordinance of 2001 and Sindh’s Mental Health Act of 2013 — exists, little importance is given to what it mandates.
Suicide still remains a crime punishable by law in Pakistan. Conversations on the topic don’t take place often enough to create awareness, usually out of fear that they may be triggering.
“Talking about suicide doesn’t promote suicide,” said Dr Ayesha Mian, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the AKU, at a panel discussion on Wellness in the Workplace.
“We often underestimate the importance of listening and acting with compassion even though they help protect against a number of self-harming actions. It is important to listen to with sincerity and without fear; if you don’t know what to do, ask the person, how would you like me to help?” Dr Mian advised.