Mental Illness in Pakistan: The Impacts of Terrorism

Mental Illness in Pakistan: The Impacts of Terrorism


In the last decade, the nation of Pakistan has struggled with poverty, faltering power supplies, education inequality, and inflation. However, one of the greatest factors contributing to the nation’s instability is terrorism. A study by the Institute for Economics and Peace ranked Pakistan as third on its Global Terrorism Index, a ranking of the degree to which nations have been affected by terrorism. As a result of the War on Terror, an estimated 80,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed between 2004 and 2013.

As terrorism has become a growing concern in Pakistan, the mental health of its people has also suffered.  From 2001 to 2011, the country witnessed an almost 100% increase in the incidence of mental illnesses, particularly stress-related disorders and depression. Moreover, much research has found a consistent relationship between exposure to terrorism and poor mental health outcomes. A study in Swat Valley, a region in Pakistan especially afflicted by terrorist violence as well as anti-terrorism drone attacks, found severe post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in a majority of its participants. Another study conducted by Nasim et al. (2014) found a significant association between terrorism and psychiatric morbidity, even among participants who had no direct exposure to terrorism-related violence.

These findings and those of similar studies suggest that living under the threat of a potential terrorist attack is powerful enough to interfere with the daily functioning of the population as a whole, regardless of an individual’s actual exposure to such trauma.

“living under the threat of a potential terrorist attack is powerful enough to interfere with the daily functioning of the population as a whole”

Recognizing the psychological implications of terrorism in Pakistan is of utmost importance, as the growing problems of mental health in the country have already cost it a great deal. The Pakistan Association for Mental Health (PAMH) has highlighted the impacts of poor mental health on “national productivity, creativity, entrepreneurship and personal development”. Severe mental illness has also been associated with health risk factors such as obesity and addiction, to the extent that the World Health Organization has predicted that depression will soon become the second leading cause of death in Pakistan.

While a successful end to the War on Terror would be the ideal solution to its detrimental consequences on the health of Pakistanis, perhaps a more feasible, though challenging, approach would focus on battling the social stigma associated with mental illness in the country, and on increasing the accessibility and quality of mental health services. The increasingly urgent issue of mental illness in Pakistan, exacerbated in the face of terrorism, is one that must be addressed.

[Photo: The family of Zoubair Latif, a seventeen year old student, waits to collect his body after he was killed in a 2014 suicide bombing in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Source: Dawn News]


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