Updated: Jul 22
As the Covid-19 pandemic keeps reaching new highs in terms of spread and mutations, its repercussions do so too. Pakistan is already engulfed in hundreds of issues, with the Coronavirus added to this ever-growing list. . But jokes on it, because at this point, a lot of us are making sure that the virus meets the same fate as the other problems: implicitly get swept under the rug until it goes away for good.
There’s no denying that despite the unamenable attitudes of the public, our government has made noticeable efforts to educate and bring forth a permanent resolution to the pandemic. Starting from lightly warning the masses of the impending doom, our government has now successfully – and inevitably moved on to literally threaten in contempt of command. Which makes sense, obviously. The virus is mutating every passing moment, and although the death rate has gone down since the first wave, immunocompromised people continue to be at risk.
Credit where it’s due, the government stayed on the radar and not only displayed efficiency in trying to control the spread and transmission of the disease, but also provided methodical resources for the effective treatment of the indisposed. As a result, throughout the pandemic, Pakistan recorded minimal morbidities as compared to other countries. However, while the physical health of the public was discussed at length, there was little to no deliberation on the psychological impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the masses.
Mental health in Pakistan has long maintained its surreptitious rank due to cultural subnormality and religious calumny that precedes facts and rationality by a long margin. Extending from home to home, the misconceptions about the prevalence of mental illnesses pervades the institutional system of our country. The healthcare facilities are only designed to cater to physical health problems. Psychiatry is not only not taught as a separate subject in medical schools but also discouraged to be pursued as a profession.
This attitude results in the existence of only one psychiatrist for every 10,000 persons suffering from any of the mental disorders. While one child psychiatrist for four million children, who are estimated to be suffering from mental health issues. Only four major psychiatric hospitals exist for the population of 180 million and it is one of the major factors behind the increase in the number of patients with mental disorders.
If we hadn’t known better, or the poor handling of mental health disorders in our country wasn’t already too evident, I would have given you statistics and showed you how only 0.4% of health care expenditures by the government health department are devoted to mental health. But we do know it, don’t we? We know that when our government talks about public health, only physical health is in regard. When spreading awareness and taking preventive measures against the disease, its impact on our psychological well-being is blatantly ignored.
Covid-19 brought along a handful of adversaries with it. Not only did it become the breeding ground for several mental health conditions but served as a trigger for preexisting ones as well. Fear of contracting the disease, feeling of isolation, financial instability, state of constant bereavement are a few of the factors that have contributed to the deteriorating mental state of the nation. No reliable data is available on the prevalence of different mental health conditions in Pakistan, and I think this notion only speaks volumes on its significance.
When the government announced lockdown during the first wave, i.e. March 2020, almost all of us celebrated it. I am saying almost because the government apparently forgot to announce any sort of compensation for the daily wage workers, relief on basic commodities, or exempting the masses from the liability of paying thousands for a single COVID-19 test. It followed the usual pattern of incompetence and insensitivity on their part but that’s not what I am here to vent about.
After a few months of having all the time in the world and being as productive as one can be, the lockdown proved detrimental for a large proportion of our population that is affected by several mental health conditions. First things first, adjusting to a new kind of world that was previously unknown to us was trauma-inducing. Watching deaths so closely, horrifying statistics of morbidity and mortality 24/7 on every news bulletin resulted in aggression, frustration, and all the bad emotions. Stuck between the four-cornered walls of a home, there weren’t many outlets available to release all that frustration, hence it followed a predictable rise of domestic violence. Data from domestic violence helplines across Pakistan indicated that cases of DV increased 200 percent from January to March 2020 and were exacerbated during the lockdown.
Furthermore, a lot of individuals experienced crippling worry about having or contracting Covid-19 – the condition termed as Hypochondria or Health Anxiety. Self-isolation became a leading cause of depression. A person may not realize it, but we are naturally programmed to thrive best within a community, and when the pandemic ripped us off the only thing that instilled some sense of belonging among us, it became lonely. Where a lot of families were lucky enough to keep their loved ones close within one home, numerous people remained stuck miles away from theirs.
Economic recession in the country harbored a substantial figure of mental illnesses among the masses. According to a database, out of all the suicide cases reported during the span of the lockdown, i.e. 2021-2022, most of the victims had suffered from economic recession. While the government tried its best to regulate the cases of Covid-19, it did nothing to scale down all the secondary issues that rose during the pandemic. People lost their jobs, died of starvation, an upsurge in cases of burglary was witnessed, yet no legal action was taken to provide relief.
However, several non-governmental organizations stepped up to aid in these trying times. From catering to feeding the masses to offering free mental health helplines, the people of Pakistan proved the notion that the country was birthed on the sentiments of empathy and generosity. An online community that was kinder, understanding, and compassionate was built, to adapt to the changes that the pandemic inevitably brought.
Undoubtedly, there were many positive outcomes of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, but most of those outcomes remained restricted to the elite echelon of the country. To this day, when the Covid-19 pandemic is almost over, poverty and food insecurity continue to be the pandemic that remains unacknowledged by the people in power.
There is a dire need to normalize conversations pertaining to mental health and its conditions. People do not seek help because they do not believe that anything is wrong with them. In these trying times, we need people who understand us at times we don’t understand ourselves. We need to let go of the fear of society and loug kya kahenge and stand up for the sake of the wellbeing of the people we love. Moreover, there needs to be a change in the attitude of people regarding mental health and its conditions. And for that, our state authorities aka the government need to take mandatory steps in order to spread awareness among the masses. More government-funded facilities need to be designed solely catering to our psychological wellbeing. At the end of the day, citizens’ well-being and security are their primary responsibility.