Mental Health and Social Justice in Pakistan

Mental health is a critical aspect that any nation must prioritise to thrive and flourish. In recent years, the significance of mental health has gained momentum, especially in light of economic challenges in Pakistan. Addressing mental health concerns nationally is now recognised as a crucial component of overall well-being. On the occasion of…

February 20, 2024

Mental health is a critical aspect that any nation must prioritise to thrive and flourish. In recent years, the significance of mental health has gained momentum, especially in light of economic challenges in Pakistan. Addressing mental health concerns nationally is now recognised as a crucial component of overall well-being.

On the occasion of social justice day, let’s discuss and understand the interconnectedness of social justice and mental health. It is a pervasive challenge that profoundly affects not only individuals but entire communities. In the face of growing daily challenges, the fast-paced modern world, and various contemporary issues, concerns such as discrimination, trauma, marginalisation, inequality, and limited access to mental health care contributes to heightened societal stress and anxiety. Dealing with social injustice that we do in this era is crucial now to attain equitable societal conditions across various sectors.

The Current scenario:

As of 2023, Pakistan's population has reached 241.5 million. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Pakistan's mental health issues are higher than many other countries, with almost 24 million individuals experiencing such issues and requiring mental healthcare. The issues range from anxiety and depression to more severe mental health problems like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

In Pakistan, mental health policies have evolved over time as soon as the government recognised this as an important factor. Pakistan’s first national mental health policy was established in 2001 and subsequently followed and revised in 2012 and then recently in 2019. The policies aim to improve mental health conditions on a broader level, reducing stigma, encouraging people to be vocal, and enhancing the accessibility to mental health care to everyone.

Sindh First Ever Mental Health Policy

Savaira is an organisation dedicated to advocating for mental health concerns and is actively towards creating a society that prioritises mental well-being. On January 27th, 2024, Sindh Government launched the first-ever mental health policy with a strategic plan, aiming to establish sustainable and effective mental health service across the province of Sindh. Savaira actively attended this policy event, accompanied by renowned international and local stakeholders. This policy is first at the federal and provincial level.

This groundbreaking policy marks a significant milestone as the first policy at federal and provincial levels. The goal is to improve mental health conditions within Sindh, considering the cultural, geographical, religious, and historical context. The policy provides a comprehensive framework for the advancement of mental health services. Key highlights include the translation of the Sindh Mental Health Act into local languages, the establishment of rules and procedures, and the allocation of budgetary resources to mental health programs.

Moreover, the policy places a strong emphasis on mental health advocacy within educational institutions to promote mental health literacy. Savaira’s involvement in this event showcases its commitment to societal cause.

How is the justice system affected by mental health?

Mental health, when left untreated, profoundly impacts the legal system and increases the vulnerability to criminal behaviour, leading to higher incarceration rates. Individuals with mental illness are often unfairly judged and held accountable as criminals. They face much harsher imprisonment sentences and death penalties compared to those without mental health conditions.

Let’s briefly discuss a few cases that happened in Pakistan;

  1. In 2005, another case, Ghulam Ali was convicted for murdering Wajid Ali and assaulting Ms.Saima Bibi. His appeal was turned down in 2010, and the Supreme Court held his decision on hold. Despite reviews and mercy, his appeal kept on refusing, leading to his execution sentence. He submitted a petition claiming a history of mental illness, intellectual disability, and the use of antipsychotic medication.
  2. In 2003, Khizer Hayat, a former police officer, murdered his best friend, another police officer. On 28th July, Khizer Hayat was slated for execution. Initially scheduled for 16th June, his lawyers petitioned the Lahore High Court to suspend the death warrant due to his mental disability. Diagnosed with a mental disability in 2008, he has been under antipsychotic medication. His condition subjected him to mental and physical suffering, making him a target of abuse and physical attacks. As of 2015, his mercy petition is currently pending with the President of Pakistan, who holds the authority to commute his death sentence.
  3. In 2001, Imdad Ali was charged with the murder of Hafiz Muhammad Abdullah. His defence wanted to assess his mental stability for a trial, but the court rejected the request. Safia Bano, his wife, claimed that Ali occasionally discussed supernatural beings and metaphysical elements, but these discussions became prominent prior to murder year, indicating signs of abnormality. He was found guilty under section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code and sentenced to death. His wife filed a constitutional petition in the High Court and Supreme Court, and a criminal review petition was filed by the State, requesting a conversion of the death sentence to life imprisonment due to Ali's mental illness. In 2012, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. As of 2018 reports, his appeals have been rejected, and he is still on death row.

Few recent cases:

  1. Forced Marriages: Cases like Dua Zehra, forced into marriage against her will in 2022, underscore the need to address gender-based violence and mental health concerns within marriage.
  2. Sajjad Masih Case (2022): This case of a Christian man with Down syndrome, falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death, underscores the vulnerability of marginalised individuals with mental health conditions.
  3. Zainab case: The brutal 2018 rape and murder of a young girl with Down syndrome exposed the vulnerability of marginalized individuals within the justice system.

These cases collectively indicate the complexities and challenges of addressing mental health concerns within legal proceedings in Pakistan. This highlights the need for mental health assessments, consideration during death sentences, and significance of incorporating mental health into the criminal justice framework.

Conclusion:

In the pursuit of social justice, addressing mental health challenges in Pakistan is not only about treating mental concerns but also about creating a society where every individual has access to quality resources and opportunities. Understanding the profound interplay of mental health and the justice system is crucial for breaking the cycle of injustice and promoting well-being of individuals experiencing mental health conditions.

This blog aims to advocate for a society that fosters empathy, understanding, and effective support systems when dealing with mental illness, without resorting to discrimination and criminalisation.

Savaira is actively working to assist young people in addressing mental challenges, particularly in universities. This effort extends beyond the individual level, as Savaira is now also promoting support groups. These groups offer orientation and training to individuals, empowering them to contribute to creating a better and safer place online where mutual acknowledgement and respect are valued for everyone.