Mental health issues pose a significant concern, with distinct challenges manifesting in Pakistan, particularly among women, who have historically faced marginalization and societal stigmatization. Women in Pakistan frequently encounter cultural pressures, and economic challenges that contribute to their susceptibility to mental health concerns.
The subject of mental health in Pakistan is frequently disregarded and inadequately addressed. In the context of women in Pakistan, they are commonly perceived as individuals who bear the responsibility of attending to the needs of others incessantly. The Pakistani society and culture exhibit significant polarization, particularly in relation to women’s mental health. The lack of awareness among individuals is seen in their failure to recognize that a wife or mother who possesses sound mental and physical wellbeing is more capable of effectively managing a household in comparison to one who is physically fatigued and psychologically strained. The prevalence of mental health issues among Pakistani women is a growing concern. Common conditions include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc. There are various contributing factors to the prevalence of these issues.
Depression is a widespread mental health issue in Pakistan, affecting women disproportionately. Societal expectations, economic stress, and family responsibilities can contribute to depression. Persistent melancholy and lack of interest are hallmarks of depression. Clinical depression is a serious mental health condition that can have far-reaching consequences. It is possible that someone with depression may have a hard time performing daily tasks and they may even question whether or not it is worth continuing to live. Depression is more than just the blues, and it is not something you can “snap out of” by trying harder. Medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two is effective in the treatment of depression.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that may impact those who have experienced or observed a distressing incident or sequence of events. PTSD has the potential to exert adverse impacts on an individual’s psychological, physiological, interpersonal, and spiritual wellbeing.
According to research conducted by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), it has been shown that a significant proportion of women in Pakistan, around 40%, have encountered instances of physical or emotional violence throughout the course of their lives. According to the findings of National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS), a significant proportion of married women between the ages of 15 and 49, specifically 24.5%, encounter incidents of intimate partner physical at least once during their lifetime that leads to PTSD.
Postpartum depression (PPD) may manifest in new mothers as a consequence of hormonal fluctuations, inadequate sleep, suboptimal dietary patterns, and the challenges associated with assuming the role of a caregiver. According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) the incidence of PPD among Pakistani women varies between 28% and 63%, positioning it as one of the most elevated rates in the Asian region. The impact of PPD on women, infants, and families is significant. The onset of PPD in Pakistan is influenced by various environmental, cultural, and socioeconomic factors. Regrettably, PPD frequently remains misdiagnosed in Pakistan, resulting in the emergence of enduring health complications.
A number of initiatives are being taken by governmental institutions to address the mental issues prevalent among Pakistani women. In this regard, the Ministry of National Health Services Regulation and Coordination’s launch of a mental health app called “Humraaz” in March 2023 is one of the most promising initiatives being undertaken. This app seeks to provide access to and assistance to anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or any other type of mental health emergency while also providing treatment to patients with complete confidentiality. Patients can also schedule appointments with psychiatrists and psychologists through this app, and the government has vowed to work toward hiring and training specialists to tackle the mental health issue.
Helplines like the “UMANG Pakistan” have been launched to support and counsel individuals facing mental health challenges. It is an online suicide prevention and counseling service providing immediate access to clinical psychologists/therapists/counselors in most cases.
Maternity and Paternity Leave Bill under Article 75 of the Constitution, which mandates paid parental leave, has been approved. The Bill guarantees that women working for government organizations or private companies under federal supervision will be entitled to avail maternity leaves with full pay for three separate periods during service; first time for 180 days, the second time for 120 days, and the third time for 90 days.
In Pakistan, Oladoc and Marham are digital healthcare platforms. They assist in finding and booking appointments or online video consultations with the best doctors in Pakistan. These platforms help in choosing the right doctors by browsing patient reviews, consultation fees, satisfaction rankings, and wait times. They connect patients with the best doctors in Pakistan who are experts in their respective professions via in-person appointments or video consultations. These platforms can be accessed from mobile phones to instantly book an appointment for an affiliated specialty, treatment, hospital, or lab test.
Overcoming Mental Health Challenges: The Way Forward
It is of utmost importance to address and challenge the societal stigma associated with women’s mental health in Pakistan. Below are a number of measures that can be employed to address the issues regarding women’s mental health.
Schools, workplaces, and local community organizations can play a vital role. They should provide information about mental health, emphasizing that seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Training sessions and seminars on pre- and post-marriage counseling, parenting, overcoming stress, depression, and anxiety should be organized to create awareness among both men and women.
Access to Mental Health Services
Expanding access to affordable, high-quality mental health care is of utmost importance. Collaboration among governmental entities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and local communities can be employed as a means to build and advance mental health facilities. It is imperative that support groups and counselling services are easily accessible and uphold strict confidentiality measures. Additionally, these programs should be staffed by qualified psychologists who can offer appropriate assistance, facilitate constructive dialogue, and aid in the process of emotional and psychological recovery.
The constant stream of negative news on mainstream and social media is concerning as it contributes to increased negativity and stress. Promoting positive portrayals of society, women, mental health, and stories of recovery through media engagement can be instrumental in reshaping societal perceptions about mental health of women.
Mental Health Aid at Educational Institutes
The prevalence of mental health concerns among school, college and university students necessitates the provision of comprehensive services and support within educational institutions. Just as physical wellbeing is prioritized in educational institutions, an equivalent level of consideration should be accorded to mental health. This can manifest in several ways, such as generalized education on mental health and provision of information in addition to a safe space for students to talk about their issues. Additionally, flexible hours for checks and a conducive environment that allows students to openly express their anxiety and depression can also be part of the services provided.
Take Charge of Your Own and Your Family’s Mental Health
Women have the ability to overcome mental health challenges by engaging in self-care practices. These practices include incorporating regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, ensuring sufficient sleep, and utilizing relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga. Additionally, adopting a balanced approach to both work and personal life can also contribute to overall mental wellbeing. By acknowledging the importance of mental health and incorporating these strategies, women can enhance their wellbeing, achieve a greater sense of balance, and excel in their diverse responsibilities.
Families play a crucial role in the mental wellbeing and disorders of women. Promoting support and empathy towards women within families is crucial. By fostering open communication and mutual understanding, families can effectively address issues and work together to find viable solutions.
The promotion of positive mental wellbeing necessitates the dismantling of societal stigmatization and socio-cultural taboos around women’s mental health. This can be achieved through enhancing the accessibility of mental health services and augmenting education and awareness efforts. By prioritizing the mental health of women, Pakistan has the potential to foster a future characterized by improved wellbeing and enhanced equity for its whole population.