One third of those exposed to disasters develop psychiatric illnesses-Prof. Mazhar Malik


 6th World Congress of Asian Psychiatry in Abu Dhabi

One third of those exposed to disasters develop
psychiatric illnesses - Prof. Mazhar Malik

Pakistan has suffered from many disasters during the
last ten years which has affected a large population

DUBAI: Most countries in Asia have witnessed many devastating disasters across boundaries. Mental health and psychosocial problems are faced by all communities which are struck by disasters. Radical circumstances flush out the mental illness in society and whenever there’s a disaster, there’s a rush on hospital admissions for psychiatric problems. This was stated by Prof. Mazhar Malik from Rawal Medical & Dental College, Rawal Institute of Health Sciences, Islamabad from Pakistan. He was making a presentation at the Plenary Round Table on Mental Health in cities on Marcy 25, 2017 during the 6th World Congress of Asian Psychiatry held at  Abu Dhabi from March 23-25, 2017.

Prof. Mazhar Malik

Research, Prof. Mazhar Malik stated has indicated that disaster increases the prevalence of mental health problems by 30%. Majority of the population exposed to disasters do well and have mild transitory symptoms but about “one third” develop psychiatric illnesses.Pakistan unfortunately has suffered massive natural and manmade disasters during the past 10 years ranging from earthquake in 2005, floods in 2010 and terrorism since 2007.These disasters affect both urban and rural settings.

During the October, 2005 earthquake, in the capital of AJK, Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir, over 87,000 lives were lost, more than 100,000 were severely injured, about two million people became homeless and 16,000 educational institutions got destroyed. Pakistan was struck by yet another disaster in the form of floods in 2010 in which 20 million people were affected, with at least 6 million needing life-saving humanitarian assistance, including mental health care. About 46 of Pakistan's 135 major urban districts along with River Indus were affected by the floods.

Another monster afflicting Pakistan’s major cities and provincial capitals since 2001 Prof. Mazhar Malik sated was  terrorism.The annual death toll from terrorist attacks in Pakistan ranged from 164 in 2003 to 6303 in 2011.The death toll decreased to 1803 in 2016 when armed forces took over in the form of a military operation named as Zarb-e-Azb.

It is very important to discuss and quantify disaster and it’s after effects which are not related to only physical health and safety but also has psychological and social implications. The priority psychiatric diagnoses, identified in earthquake survivors were Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Chronic Psychosis, Mental Retardation, Epilepsy, Conversion disorder, PTSD and Delirium according to a study done by Dr. Muwadat. H. Rana and his colleague in 2006. Similarly, Stress, Anxiety, Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder were identified in urban population affected by large magnitude floods in Pakistan in 2010.

Another study in Swat valley, a region in Pakistan especially afflicted by terrorism as well as anti-terrorism drone attacks, found severe post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in majority of its participants. Yet another study found a significant association between terrorism and psychiatric illnesses like stress related disorders and depression even among participants who had no direct exposure to terrorism-related violence.

Mental Health and Psycho-social Support (MHPSS) is a composite term used in guidelines to describe any type of local or outside support that aims to protect or promote psychosocial well-being and prevent or treat mental disorder. A National Action Plan was formulated in 2005 for the psychosocial relief of earthquake survivors.  It highlighted the importance of mental health and psychosocial care for the survivors of disasters. Psychosocial relief services in Pakistan for disaster management comprised of non-pharmacological interventions like trauma counseling, critical incident debriefing, grief work, psychosocial intervention and psychological first aid, he added.