Talking about your own struggles with mental health has always been considered a taboo in Pakistan.
But those who do find the courage to talk about their struggles and venture out to find help, they find even more struggles that they have to deal with.
The first issue is with the confusion a lot of people have about who and where to go to. Psychologists and psychiatrists are entirely different. A psychiatrist is an MBBS doctor who has specialized in psychiatry. They are the ONLY ones who are authorized to prescribe medications to patients.
So if you find a therapist volunteering to write prescriptions, RUN. This is not only illegal but a big risk to your health; both mental and otherwise.
Pakistan does not have a board in place which accredits psychologists so there isn’t really any check and balance.
This means there are a lot of people who are probably out who are practising therapists but are not qualified.
Finding good mental health care is very hard in Pakistan. And if you do happen to find a qualified therapist, chances are you might not be able to afford them. On average a session with a foreign qualified therapist will cost you about PKR 2500 per session. So if you go on an average of one session a week, which is pretty standard, you’re looking at spending about PKR 10,000 per month alone.
And if you’re a student or a young professional, such a big amount just might be out of the question.
Apart from the aspect of pricing, the general apathy I have seen in the psychological community within Pakistan is disgusting. While I understand that when people are studying to be psychologists, they are taught not to get too heavily involved in the lives of their patients, being entirely apathetic is not the way to go either.
As a student of Psychology myself, sometimes I get scared when I hear the type of discussions taking place in class.
The issue with a lot of people is how we mix religion into every aspect of our lives. And of course, students tend to view the material they read with this lens as well. While the American Psychological Association (APA) has removed homosexuality being categorized as a mental disorder from the APA Manual in the 1970s, the decision in our part of the world is still heavily contested.
I have heard fellow students talk about homosexual or transgender people as ‘wrong’, ‘confused’ and ‘misguided’.
And it times it used to disgust me that this is the future of mental health care in my country. We all have our biases, even I found it hard to shed some ideas I had before I started perusing psychology. But the thought that some of these people might still hold these ideas when they start practising is a little too scary for me.
So my advice to anyone seeking mental health care is to do your research. Ask around and don’t be shy. Make anonymous posts on forums if you must but don’t go into sessions blindly. And if you feel like the therapist you are going to is not the right fit, then you have the right to terminate sessions immediately.
What are your thoughts about accessibility to good mental health care in Pakistan? Let us know in the comments!
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Cover Image Source: Newsweek Pakistan