COVID-19 and mental health challenges

Mental health is still considered a taboo in Pakistan


Aleena Khan & Wajid Islam

All over the world, mental health is considered a serious issue but it is still a taboo in Pakistan۔ But it has emerged as one of the major issues in the wake of the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, these are difficult times. People all over the world are facing multiple challenges: economies are struggling, healthcare infrastructure and social fabrics are crumbling. Poverty and unemployment are skyrocketing. An invisible creature has put people in a situation of uncertainty and hopelessness.

The news about the spread of the pandemic across the globe and deaths is taking its toll on people’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety. The fear and anxiety of being infected at any time are relentless. People are worried about their near and dear ones. Social interaction, which is considered the spine of human development, is hit hard by the pandemic. People all over the world including Pakistan are experiencing immense anxiety and stress.

According to a survey, around 50 million people in Pakistan are facing some kind of mental disorders. Suicide and domestic violence have become the norm of the day. The economic crunch and hopelessness are driving people to extreme steps like committing suicide, self-immolations, and familicides. The main causes behind these violent acts are poverty, unemployment, social and cultural suffocation which are rising day by day.

It is an open secret that the current pandemic, perhaps, unprecedented in the human history of the last 100 years, will exacerbate the existing condition of poverty and will hit the poor and marginalised segments of society hard. As a result, it will adversely affect the mental health of a large number of people, especially vulnerable segments like women and children. It will ignite domestic abuse, drug consumption, violence and crimes.

In male-dominated patriarchal societies like Pakistan’s, when a male faces some financial hardships, he tries to vent his frustration on other family members, particularly women by subjecting them to domestic violence.

Mental health issues become worst in countries where health and education are not given priority. It is evident from the fact that there are a few psychiatrists, mental care hospitals and counselling facilities in Pakistan.

We cannot afford further mentally sick population since 40 per cent of our new generation is also mentally stunted.

No one can deny the fact that this pandemic will have a greater psychological and social impact on the whole of the population because the virus has disrupted normal life. Naturally, a human takes some time to acclimatize to new circumstances. But to lessen the adverse effects, government along with other measures have to priorities the mental wellbeing of its citizens and especially of the most vulnerable and marginalised segments. Because this pandemic will further aggravate the mental health situation and eventually, we will reach a point where it will be difficult to come back to normality. We cannot afford further mentally sick population since 40 per cent of our new generation is also mentally stunted.

There is no doubt that the government is trying to contain the spread of Coronavirus but it has failed to curb the spread of fake news. Due to lockdown people are heavily relying on social media and are spending long hours watching fabricated news about the COVID-19 disease, which is also one of the main causes of making people depressed and increase anxiety. These worrisome people are convinced that there will be a shortage of everything like food, medicine, clothes and so on and the world will descend into chaos.

The best way to cope with the aforementioned mental health problems is to avoid such news which is causing anxiety and watch only reliable programmes on channels and trusted sources.

Moreover, reading will help to lessen the mental pressure. Furthermore, other positive activities like games and gardening will enhance both physical and mental health.

Apart from this, helping the needy people by the government and wealthy people will also save them from mental stress and economic hardships. By cooperation, we can defeat this invisible enemy, which has ravaged and tormented humanity.

The World Health Organisation has also cautioned about the mental health consequences and recommended useful advice on protecting your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak, it was broadly welcomed.


Aleena Khan is a lecturer at Bahria University Islamabad. Wajid Islam is an MPhil student at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad.

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