S H B Shuvro
This is startling to note that almost in every village and town of Bangladesh one will find a troubled soul (labelled as ‘pagol’ or mad) wandering aimlessly. Atik is one of those unfortunate persons, who belongs to Kadamtali, a small village located on the bank of the river Titas. People of his village say that Atik was a good student as well as a popular fisherman. But unfortunately he got addicted to Yaba and after using the drug for four years he lost control over his sense, and gradually got the label of ‘pagol’.
The twist of destiny later displaced him in Dhaka and now Atik can be found on different streets of this heaving capital. One can see him wandering alongside busy traffic, sometimes begging, sometimes going through bins for food. However, it cannot be denied that a plethora of such mentally disordered persons can be traced who are left on the streets in different parts of the country. Depression, drug addiction, and lack of money are the main reasons why they are left on the streets. It is ridiculous that yet we neither have taken any steps to trace the number of such people nor have we integrated any intervention and social security system to rehabilitate those mentally disabled people left on the streets. Definitely here comes the responsibility of the authorities concerned to intervene immediately in this regard.
However, apart from those so called ‘pagol’ left on the street, there are thousands of people among us, particularly youths, who are suffering from mental illness and reports tell us that the number of mental health patients is on the rise in the country. Reportedly 17.8 per cent teenagers, 18.4 per cent children and 16.1 per cent adult people in the country suffer from some sort of mental disorder.
It needs no emphasising that drug addiction is one of the main problems that have been overwhelming our youths with mental-illness for a long time. Drug abuse and mental-illness are intertwined in such a way that it is hard to discern one from another. Drugs like Yaba, Phensidyl, Marijuana and heroin impact the abusers’ cognitive process, cause cognitive impairment, stress and depression. On the other hand, there are many people suffering from mental-illness like to use drugs to get rid of the sufferings, though in reality such tendency creates a reverse impact on the abusers. Hence, in order to help our youths overcome mental illness caused by drug addiction; an urgent need for reinforcing the drug law emerges.
It is good to note that the government has given a sincere attention towards improving mental health of the people. Reportedly, mental health counselling is being provided through 18,000 community clinics across the country. There are around 4,000 union health centres, 507 upazila health complexes, hospitals at every district city and specialised hospitals and medical colleges in all divisional cities, and many of those provide both outdoor and indoor facilities for mental health treatment.
On the other hand, it is disheartening to note that in Bangladesh, mental health-care system and infrastructures are severely underfunded with just some 0.5 per cent of the total health budget being spent on health budget whereas budgetary allocation for mental health sector in the developing countries should be at least 5 per cent.
Still seeking health services is a challenge in Bangladesh. Mental- health service in Bangladesh is facing a range of difficulties including lack of skilled psychiatrist, inadequate infrastructure, low budget allocation, lack of awareness about psychiatric disorders. Hence, reinforcing country’s mental health services by training more psychiatrists and allocating adequate fund has become inevitable.
People with mental illness are harshly mistreated in our society and patients are often stigmatized due to lack of understanding and awareness. The consequence of such negligence sometimes turns devastating and causes suicide. In accordance with news reports, there have been seventy cases of suicides reported all over Bangladesh except Dhaka from January to April 2018. Statistics show that on average around 30 people commit suicide every day. Reportedly, in 2016, the total number of suicide was 10,600 and the number rose to 11,095 in 2017. However, it is envisaged that the actual numbers would be much higher as many incidents go unreported.
It is needless to mention that mental-illness is one of the main concerns behind the increasing number of suicide cases in Bangladesh. The number of suicide cases could have been reduced with proper care and concrete awareness. Mental illness at primary level can easily be driven away with proper care and treatment. In this regard, we must change our psychology of interpretation towards treating mental-health sufferers.
Over the last years, with the innovation and intervention of newer technologies, we have been witnessing a paradigm shift in the way we live. Life has become more technical and consequently stress in life has amplified. The impact of such changes can overwhelm our mental health and in this regard awareness can play a crucial role to escape us from mental-illness. Despite the increasing number of mental health patients, it is yet to receive the mass attention in Bangladesh. Given the gravity of the fact, all concerned should work together to cut the Gordian knot of mental health challenges. It is time to break down the social stigmas and extend necessary support and care for those of all ages who are the victims of mental-illness.
S H B Shuvro is an Editorial Assistant, Bangladesh Post