President for launch of national mental health helpline

ISLAMABAD, Oct 27 (APP): President Dr Arif Alvi on Thursday stressed the need for broader and comprehensive consultation by the government with all stakeholders for developing and launching an effective national mental health helpline for counseling and information.

In a meeting on mental health held here at Aiwan-e-Sadr, he said a collaborative network between stakeholders in the public and private sectors as well as non-government organizations was a way forward to promote mental healthcare and reduce the stigma attached to seeking mental health help.

Rabia Javeri Agha, Chairperson National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR); Dr. Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala, Country Director WHO; Dr. Muhammad Tahir Khalili, Dean Shifa Tameer Millat University; Dr. Shabana Saleem, Director General Health; Dr. Rizwan Taj, Dean FMTI; Dr. Uzma Masroor, Head of Psychology Department Air University; Prof Dr. Imtiaz Dogar, from Pakistan Psychiatric Society (PPS), Dr Asif Kamal and others attended the meeting.

The president called upon the stakeholders including federal and provincial governments, Pakistan Mental Health Coalition, Pakistan Psychiatric Society, Pakistan Psychological Association, World Health Organization, World Bank and Global Fund and Non-government Organizations to pool up their resources and institutional intellect.

He emphasized in this regard preventive cure by creating necessary human resource on fast-track basis which was possible through providing necessary training to the general practitioners, lady health workers as well as nurses and launching short-term diploma courses for health workers and integration the mental health well-being in the primary healthcare system.

The president noted with concern that Pakistan, home to over 220 million people, had one of the lowest mental health indicators in the world.

As per estimates of the WHO, over 30 million people in the country are suffering from some sort of mental disorder but it has less than 500 psychiatrists which leaves 80 percent of people untreated with common mental health disorders, he added.

The president underlined the need for bottom-up approach to prevent mental illness or disorder at the initial stage which was possible by mobilizing and engaging religious scholars, celebrities, social media influencers and community leaders on mental health well-being.

He said that keeping in view the enormity of the mental health issues faced by the people of Pakistan, it was needed to develop a rapid response system capable of providing education to the people through chat box, telephone helplines, web-based interactive information system.

He emphasized a close, meaningful collaboration with social media platforms to disseminate the message of mental health well-being to the general masses.

Dr. Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala, Country Director WHO said that his organization was working with the relevant persons and NGOs to provide mental health services, creating general awareness and reducing the stigma attached to it.

He said that the issue could be effectively handled by frequently talking about mental health well-being, creating intermediary diploma programs to provide basic information and education at the community level and integrating mental well-being in the primary healthcare system.

Dr. Muhammad Tahir Khalili, Dean Shifa Tameer Millat University, Islamabad and Uzma Masroor, HoD Psycology Air University said that that prevention was better than cure and added that students and adults should be educated to adopt healthy lifestyle and be sensitized on the negative impact of any use of drugs.

Irfan Mustafa and Taha Sabri, the officials of Taskeen Health Initiative said that there was need to bring behavioral change for dealing with mental health and mental health disorders.

Dr. Shabana Saleem, Director General Health, Dr. Rizwan Taj, Dean FMTI, Dr. Irum Naveed, DED PIMS, said that Pakistan had formally launched the Mental Health & Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) model which was multilayered and digitized, rights-based, scalable and sustainable on the guidelines of World Health Organization (WHO) to build capacity of mental health professionals and develop inter-sectoral collaboration.