Economic Downturn: Inclusive Growth Key In Battling Mental Health Crisis 

The economic downturn, intertwined with inflation and the cost of living crisis, exacerbates unemployment rates and instigates job insecurity, leading to heightened levels of fear, depression, and overall mental distress.

Economic Downturn: Inclusive Growth Key In Battling Mental Health Crisis 

In Pakistan, mental health challenges constitute over 4% of the overall disease burden, disproportionately affecting women. Approximately 24 million individuals require psychiatric assistance, yet allocated resources for mental health screening and treatment fall short of meeting the escalating demands. World Health Organization data reveals a stark inadequacy, with only 0.19 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants, positioning Pakistan among the countries with the lowest mental health workforce globally.

While this shortage exacerbates the struggle to provide essential mental health services, the economic landscape is currently characterized by a substantial inflationary trend, hovering around 30 percent, causing panic among people on the lower rungs of society as they increasingly find it difficult to make both ends meet. This situation has prompted the psychiatric community to advocate for inclusive policies aimed at mitigating the mental health challenges stemming from the economic phenomenon

"There has been a 60 percent rise in reported suicide cases, and the situation could be even worse given the deteriorating unemployment coupled with skyrocketing inflation," notes Khalid Mufti, who runs a mental hospital in Peshawar to finance his philanthropic organization, Horizon. He adds that the financial stress becomes a primary source of anxiety, leaving individuals and families in precarious positions as they struggle to meet basic needs.

As inflation drives the cost of living higher, individuals and communities grapple with profound pressure that extends beyond economic implications, affecting mental and emotional well-being. Essential goods and services witness soaring prices, imposing a pervasive financial strain on the population. “The diminished purchasing power compounds the challenges, fostering feelings of powerlessness and frustration among the populace,” Dr. Mufti says adding that the majority of the patients he attends to constitute middle-aged women from poor families who are worried about the future of their children.

Politico-Psychological Perspective

The economic downturn, intertwined with inflation, exacerbates unemployment rates and instigates job insecurity, leading to heightened levels of fear, depression, and overall mental distress. Dr. Mufti underscores the strain on public resources, including healthcare systems, as inflation may result in reduced funding for mental health services or make them less accessible.

"The rich are amassing wealth at an accelerated pace, while the middle class is squeezed, and the poor find themselves sinking deeper into poverty. This economic fallout has a ripple effect, manifesting in the lack of access to quality food for the majority, ultimately impacting the mental health of people," explained Dr. Mufti.

Within this economic milieu, social inequalities are magnified, disproportionately affecting lower-income individuals and widening the wealth gap. The resulting feelings of injustice, frustration, and hopelessness are particularly acute among marginalized communities. The financial strain permeates interpersonal relationships, elevating tension within families and communities.

The pervasive uncertainty linked to economic instability and inflation contributes to a collective fear of the future. Concerns about long-term financial security, retirement, and the ability to provide for one's family become prevalent, fostering anxiety and depression on a societal scale.

The economic slowdown translates to significant reductions in people's purchasing power, restricting their ability to afford quality food, pay utility bills, and manage their children's education. "The mental stress is fostering distress, ultimately leading to a vicious cycle of hopelessness," Dr. Mufti says.

Inclusive Growth Model

While urgent attention is imperative to address the mental health challenge, necessitating increased investment in mental health infrastructure, training programs for mental health professionals, and widespread awareness campaigns, Dr. Mufti advocates for economic policies aimed at mitigating inflation, the establishment of social support programs, and the enhancement of accessible mental health services. 

Recognizing the intricate interplay between economic challenges and mental well-being is crucial for implementing effective strategies that alleviate the impact of inflation on the mental health of the Pakistani population.

Dr. Mufti contends that meaningful and effective economic measures are the key to addressing the challenges and prioritizing the well-being and upliftment of citizens. He pinpoints persistent high inflation as the primary culprit, a consequence of the government's tendency to shift the burden of economic downturn onto the poor and middle-income groups.

"Focus on the economy with an emphasis on inclusive growth and take assuring steps to make people believe in the worthiness of life," urges Dr. Mufti, emphasizing the importance of attending to the economic challenges with a comprehensive and compassionate approach.

In a bid to pull people back from the brink of hopelessness, Dr. Mufti urges a focus on the economy with an emphasis on inclusive growth — creating a more equitable and just society where the benefits of economic development are shared by everyone, leading to a more stable and sustainable future. He calls for assuring steps to make people believe in the worthiness of life, emphasizing the importance of addressing economic challenges comprehensively and compassionately. 

Additionally, he suggests an alternative approach, urging individuals to turn to entrepreneurship to sustain their livelihoods. Despite testing times, he notes the unmatchable resilience of the people, emphasizing the importance of supplementing means of livelihood to brave their financial woes.

As Dr. Kahalid Mufti steers this comprehensive call to action, the nation awaits responses and initiatives that not only address the economic challenges at hand but also prioritize mental well-being in the pursuit of a more resilient and hopeful future.

The author is a policy analyst