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MIRPURKHAS, Pakistan: Nasir Khan, a 40-year-old laborer from Pakistan’s Mirpurkhas district, Sindh province, stood outside the Civil Hospital last week complaining of anxiety and feelings of sadness and hopelessness .

In August, Khan’s home and livestock were swept away by deadly floods that have affected at least 33 million people in Pakistan since mid-June and killed nearly 1,700 people.

The father-of-four has since been living with his family in a relief camp in Sindh, the province worst hit by the floods, where water-borne and vector-borne diseases are now rampant and a return to normality is months or even away. years.

Last year, the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London said the intensifying impacts of climate change, from more severe heat waves to flooded homes, were leading to a growing mental health crisis in the world.

“Before the floods, I had no psychiatric problems,” Khan told Arab News, describing sleepless nights spent squashing mosquitoes and days with little food. “Now I fear for my future and that of my family.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate change minister, has stressed the need for urgent medical supplies to protect against fast-spreading waterborne diseases from standing water, urging the developed world to step up funding for a disaster that , according to her, has no known parallel. the story.

But little or no attention is paid to the psychological toll of the disaster.

Already, the damage caused by the floods is reflected in an increase in the number of people reporting mental health problems. More than 2,000 people came to Mirpurkhas Civil Hospital between June and September this year seeking psychiatric treatment, an increase of at least 10% from the past four months, according to facility data.

“At Mirpurkhas Civil Hospital, the number of patients presenting to the outpatient psychiatric ward has increased by 10% compared to the average number of patients in the previous four months,” said district psychiatrist Dr Lakesh Khatri, at Arab News.

“The increased number of cases are people affected by the floods who suffered trauma due to the widespread devastation.”

Mental health patients, mostly men, were also arriving at the hospital from neighboring Sanghar and Umerkot districts, Khatri added. The mental health issues diagnosed were caused by financial stress, as well as the loss of a sense of security.

The Sindh Mental Health Authority said the increase in mental health cases was mainly due to uncertain socio-economic conditions and deterioration following the floods.

It would take months, the body said, to quantify the exact damage to mental health in the province, where more than 750 people have been killed, 2 million homes damaged and 435,000 head of livestock lost.

Officials say more than 2 million acres of farmland across the country have been flooded, destroying most standing crops and preventing farmers from planting new ones.

“This monsoon and the floods have affected the double crops of the farming communities, in progress and in the future. He also took away their homes and uprooted them,” SMHA chairman Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja told Arab News last week.

“At this stage, it is difficult to quantify the number of mentally ill patients related to the flood devastation in Sindh and the SMHA will conduct a study after the flood waters recede towards the end of the year.”

Stagnant floodwaters in agricultural fields mean large numbers of farmers are at risk of missing out on the upcoming winter cropping season, Khawaja said.

With the next growing season starting in March 2023, many farmers will be without a livelihood for at least the next six months, a worry that is triggering mental health issues.

Referring to a 2020 mental health study in Sindh focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Khawaja said the prevalence of depression was estimated at 42%, while 85% of the 1,494 respondents suffered from depression. anxiety.

Among the participants, 10% would have received a psychiatric diagnosis.

“As the COVID pandemic continues, and so do its impacts, the devastation of the floods has added to the mental health impacts (already) present in society,” the SMHA President said.

“The floods caused depression and anxiety among survivors,” he added. “They find their future bleak due to poor health, economic and livelihood conditions.”

The province is also facing a shortage of doctors to deal with rising mental health issues, Khawaja said.

“Sindh has a total of 145 psychiatrists,” he said. “Out of 30 districts in the province, more than 20 districts do not even have a single psychiatrist.”

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