THIS year, World Mental Health Day, that will be observed on Oct 10, is dedicated to ‘Young people and mental health in a changing world’. Young people include adolescents aged 10 to 19 years. This is a critical period for psychological development as individuals mature towards adulthood, evolve in their identity and assume more autonomous social roles. Across Pakistan’s social classes this is also a time when life situations are in transition, from villages to cities, homes to hostels, or from giving up education to looking for livelihood. The proliferation of digital technology is an additional psychosocial challenge that can work to the detriment of traditional social networks, sense of identity, and self-esteem.
With a staggering population growth rate of 2.4 per cent, Pakistan has the second-largest young population in the world. Every fourth Pakistani today is between the ages of 10 and 19 years. Pakistan’s National Human Development Report, 2018, defines the youth as a critical force “which will prove to be either a dividend or a disaster” for the country. Clearly, this human force needs to be in a state of well-being in which they realise their potential; can cope with the normal stresses of life; can work productively; and are able to make meaningful contributions to their community. This is also how WHO defines ‘mental health’.
Mental health and socio-cultural challenges are closely related and must be examined within our specific local context. A quarter of Pakistanis today live below the poverty line; 45 per cent of Pakistani children suffer from stunted growth as a result of malnutrition; over 22 million children do not go to school; approximately 8m children even under the age of 14 are employed as labourers. Adolescent mental health needs are known to intensify in humanitarian and fragile-state settings. Pakistan qualifies for both categories. Like elsewhere in South Asia, young Pakistanis are compelled to take on adult responsibilities, including dropping out of school, seeking work opportunities, and caring for their families to meet basic survival needs, before they reach adulthood.
Effective programmes for controlling drug use and counselling services to help manage stress would greatly help young Pakistanis trying to navigate daily social and urban challenges. The government needs to integrate social, health and education sectors to implement evidence-based programmes for young mental health.
The writer is a consultant psychiatrist.
Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2018
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