Mental health is without a doubt one of the most stigmatized issues, all over the world. This stigma is far worse in a country like Pakistan, where people still struggle to access basic health facilities. It was this very thought that led me take an initiative during my job with the government in Pakistan.
In a country where health budget is a very small part of the overall budget, it is no surprise that the budget for mental health is negligible. There are very few specialists, mental hospitals and infrastructure. It is estimated that the budget for mental health in Pakistan is 0.4% of the country’s total health budget.1 According to a WHO report there are only five mental hospitals available in the country and the total number of human resources working in mental health facilities or private practice per 100,000 population is 87.023.1
Having the opportunity to work closely with the government, I decided to bring together experts from civil society, psychologists, media, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders together on the same table with provincial and government officials. As the initiator of the project, I remember being discouraged and even mocked at. And it was while I was organizing the initiative that I realized the problem was more widespread than I thought. In my circle of so-called educated, liberal, progressive people, I found it extremely challenging to find support for the project. People did not want to be associated with it because it was considered “unimportant” in a country that faces far worse issues. I was fortunate however to find a few likeminded people who supported the idea and helped me initiate a successful advocacy campaign.
Mental health remains a highly stigmatized and neglected issue Pakistan and South Asia in general. There is a dire need to bring this issue to the forefront and make it part of the national agenda.