10 October is globally recognised as World Mental Health Day.

In an effort to raise awareness and advocate against the social stigma attached to discussing mental health issues, actor Sanam Saeed has written down her thoughts on why we need to be having difficult conversations from an early age:

"Mental health, although being talked about more and more nowadays, is still extremely misunderstood and stigmatised, especially in Pakistan, where people think ignoring or hiding the issue will make it go away.

However, the opposite tends to be true—the more open we are about it, the more we speak up about the issues, the more we acknowledge the mental health crisis around us, the easier it will be for people to seek help, to support one another and to pay attention to their own emotions and mental health.

It is time to highlight the fact that 1 in 4 people will and do face a mental health issue at some point in their lives. It is time to accept that globally, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young people and that 79% of suicides, although not spoken about, occur in low- and middle-income countries.

It is time to speak up about all the mental health issues we see occur and the lack of resources and support available to help our people. It is time to educate people and inform them that there IS help and treatment out there and mental health issues can and should be treated with the appropriate interventions. It is time to stop ignoring the issue and moving towards acceptance and solutions.

Although numbers show that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health issue or disorder at any given time- that is approximately 1.95 billion people worldwide; it is estimated that over two-thirds of these people never seek help, due to the stigma and lack of awareness around it.

We need to start these conversations from an early school going age, as early as children are taught about physical health—they should learn about mental health and be taught how to communicate and to talk about their feelings and emotions and also to be kind and show empathy to others.

Children and adolescents comprise almost 25% of the population and are particularly susceptible to the many drivers of mental health issues highly prevalent in the country, such as violence, political unrest, and social and economic inequalities, which have been exacerbated by the recent pandemic. Even before Covid-19, the prevalence of mental health issues among school-aged adolescents in Pakistan was estimated to be 19-34%, yet there remains minimal support for addressing these issues in the country.

With children being out of school, the uncertainty of the future, increased domestic violence at home, parents out of jobs and family dynamics changing—this longer-term impact on children needs to be recognised and focused on. We need to have mental health support and early interventions integrated into our education system from a young age.

We need to have teachers and parents who understand the importance of this and practice the soft skills needed to create an open and safe environment for these children, whether at school or at home.

Our mental health crisis will not be resolved or helped if we just rely on the very few professionals out there. We have only about 400 psychiatrists and 500 psychologists in a country of over 20 million people, most of who cannot even afford basic healthcare.

We need to all join forces and focus on preventative measures, early interventions, supporting one another, training our doctors, teachers, parents, children on the importance of recognising our emotions, taking care of our emotional wellbeing, recognising signs in our mental health as well as our physical health and to also learn how to support our friends, family and colleagues who are in need.

We need to start identifying the triggers that aggravate mental health issues in our society- bullying, social media negativity and anxiety, gender based violence, substance abuse, stigma around issues such as maternal issues etc and we need to speak up about these more and get to the source of the problems. I think once we all join forces—once our government, our media, our people all come together- recognise the issue and make a noise about it, then together we can focus on the solutions too.

I truly believe, as influencers, we are given a platform to shed light on these important issues and to act as mentors to our youth and our people and to encourage them to share their stories too. The more real and genuine we are about ourselves, the more others will know that there is no shame in struggling, or feeling low, or anxious or having bad days- we all have them.

Joining and supporting causes such as the British Asian Trust’s Mental Health Programme has educated me in some of the services and support available and has better equipped me to be able to spread these messages and guide anyone who reaches out to me. I believe in spreading awareness about the issues we see and we can all play a part and a role in helping overcome some of the challenges—I am trying to play my part as well.

Media is such a powerful tool—we have seen this over the last couple of weeks here in Pakistan too. It can have both a negative and a positive effect on the mental health of our youth and the people around us. It can help highlight issues and incidents happening all over the world and educate us all.

I hope to see Pakistani media play their part in covering more stories which shed light on the ‘real issues’ and some of the wonderful work being done to help. The more we talk about it, the more real it is and the more ready we become as a society to work on improving it."


To seek information on how to access services and mental health support within Pakistan, please visit www.pakmh.com

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