Skip links

Mental Health Crisis in Pakistan: 50 Million Suffer Amid Severe Shortage of Psychiatrists

Around 50 million people in Pakistan suffer from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia, which often lead to suicide. However, Pakistan has only 500 psychiatrists, translating to just 0.19 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, one of the lowest ratios in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

One in every four people in Pakistan struggles with mental health issues, leading to 50-55 suicides daily. The country ranks third in suicide rates, following Somalia and Djibouti, with a suicide rate of 9.8% in 2023. Despite the severity, mental health issues are shrouded in shame and silence due to bureaucratic apathy.

The WHO reported 19,331 suicidal deaths in Pakistan in 2019, with a suicide rate of 8.9%. Each year, an estimated 130,000 to 270,000 Pakistanis attempt suicide. Contributing factors include poverty, academic pressure, unemployment, societal expectations, and economic uncertainties.

The Pakistani government does not maintain statistics on suicides, complicating efforts to understand and address the problem. A report by Pakistani researchers highlights the lack of official epidemiological data and the criminalization of suicide, which impairs the ability to gauge the issue’s magnitude and formulate targeted interventions.

Shockingly, most suicides are committed by individuals under 30, with 89% of cases involving this age group, according to a report by researchers from Shifa International Hospital and Hong Kong University. The 10-18 age group accounts for 13% of suicides. Researchers criticize the government’s preparedness and facilities, noting that health services in Pakistan are ill-equipped to manage self-harm and suicidal behaviors beyond physical treatment. Early identification and screening for suicidal risk are nearly non-existent in both primary healthcare and private sectors.

In an editorial, Pakistan’s reputed daily Dawn condemned the government’s inaction, noting, “Sadly, such tragic incidents have become all too common in cities and towns across the country. However, there seems to be a notable lack of action, particularly on the part of the government.”

Despite the rising trend of suicides among teenagers highlighted a decade ago, Islamabad has failed to implement measures to address the issue. Interestingly, the suicide rate is highest among married women in Pakistan, contradicting the belief that marriage acts as a protective factor.

Unemployment is a crucial factor driving young people to suicide. The job situation worsened after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. For instance, daily wager Shahzeb Sahito ended his life after failing to find work. His brother explained, “He tried very hard to find any work but failed. He was so depressed with his circumstances that he set himself on fire.”

Inflation is now exacerbating the problem. Instances of family suicides due to economic hardships have become common. Karachi Police surgeon Dr. Summaiya Syed Tariq reported on the mass suicide of a family driven by unemployment and inflation, tweeting, “Cause given as joblessness and inability to make ends meet. Can’t even begin to imagine the helplessness of a family who sought refuge in death.”

In Pakistan, where Islam is widely practiced, suicide is considered a grave sin, leading to underreporting and stigma surrounding the issue. Additionally, until recently, suicide was treated as a crime, with Pakistan decriminalizing attempted suicide only in 2022.

Health consultant Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba blamed bureaucratic apathy for the poor mental health infrastructure in Pakistan. “Services to treat mental health in Pakistan are completely under-financed, without much budgetary allocation in public sector hospitals to develop robust outpatient and inpatient psychiatric units,” she said.

This website uses cookies to improve your web experience.