New Mental Health Helpline Launches in Gilgit

Gilgit: (Mountain Pass) Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan today launched the Taskeen mental health helpline at the Aga Khan Medical Centre in Gilgit to provide timely, accessible and confidential mental health support to the region’s people. The helpline is a collaboration between Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan, the Aga Khan University’s Brain and Mind Institute, and Taskeen, a non-profit organisation that specialises in mental health awareness and counselling. The helpline will provide free-of-cost psychological support and counseling through trained psychologists from Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral who speak local languages.

Mr. Mohyuddin Wani, Chief Secretary, Gilgit-Baltistan was the chief guest at the event. Addressing the participantshe said: “Mental health issues are often stigmatised and there aren’t enough safe spaces for people to seek help. We hope that the Taskeen helpline will provide a safe and private space for people to talk about their problems and receive support from trained professionals.”

In recent years, studies have shown an alarming burden of depression and anxiety in Pakistan. According to the World Health Organisation, mental disorders account for more than 4% of the total disease burden in Pakistan, and impact women disproportionately higher than men. Particularly vulnerable groups are women in the perinatal period and youth. Nearly 40% of women in Pakistan in the perinatal period (pregnancy and after) are suffering from depressive disorder or anxiety. Similarly, studies from the region show that nearly 40% of those who have attempted suicide or have died by suicide suffered from depression. In Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, in particular, high rates of suicide have been reported in recent years. It is estimated that 24 million people in Pakistan are in need of psychiatric assistance.

“It boosts our confidence immensely that the governments of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have expressed concern and have always provided their support in addressing the looming mental health crisis. We look forward to working closely with them to make a lasting change,” said the Head of Clinical Units, speaking on behalf of Mr Nadeem Abbas, Chief Executive Officer of Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan.

Commenting prior to the eventDr Zul Merali, Founding Director of the Brain and Mind Institute at the Aga Khan University, termed the helpline a collaborative effort that will help address a very important need of community members suffering in silence. He likened mental ill health to other physical health conditionsthat need to betreated without shame.

Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, and has been providing quality health services in Gilgit-Baltistan since 1987.Recently, a number of new services have been added including advanced diagnostic services, ophthalmology, cardiology, nephrology, urology, and dermatology. It has also expanded teleconsulting to additional remote health facilities and through a mobile application.

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