This is a timely initiative to remove the taboo around mental health and provoke a national discourse
Pakistan has one of the worst mental health indices in the world. More than 50 million people suffer from different mental health conditions, yet there are fewer than 500 psychiatrists in the country. Last year, WHO revealed that Pakistan’s suicide rate has crossed 8%. These alarming figures exemplify the rise in mental illnesses in Pakistan due to a general disregard for mental well-being as well as the heavy stigma around mental health support. In a turn of events, PM Shehbaz Sharif has launched a mobile phone application ‘Humraaz’ and a toll-free helpline 1166 which will provide free mental health assistance to people.
Within the last two years, many rural and undeveloped regions of the country have reported increasing cases of suicide and suicide attempts. Individuals aged 15 to 25 are among the most vulnerable. The challenging socio-economic circumstances of the country have further raised the threat of mental illnesses and suicide across all age groups. Therefore, this is a timely initiative to remove the taboo around mental health and provoke a national discourse. The app has several features to cater to individuals suffering from different conditions. To further improve its effectiveness, government officials involved in the initiative should incorporate the professional advice of qualified and credible psychologists and psychiatrists. Helpline operators should be trained and sensitised so that they can provide people with much-needed assistance. Crucially, both the app and helpline should be operational 24/7 and must be widely accessible.
The initiative needs to be a success not just for good optics for the government, but because we cannot continue losing our people to mental illnesses. Perhaps, educational institutes and public and private organisations should be involved as stakeholders to amplify awareness about mental health and the availability of these services. Such initiatives should not fall through with changes in government but must be maintained and continued to protect our current and future generations.