‘Stress can cause cardiac problems, cancer’

By Shahid Husain
A major chunk of Pakistan’s population, especially unemployed people, suffers from stress that could cause deadly diseases such as cardiac ailments and even cancer, Eminent psychiatrist and Pakistan Association for Mental Health (PAMH) President, Prof. S. Haroon Ahmed said on Saturday.

He was delivering a keynote lecture at the Ninth Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan Development Forum at the National Institute of Management (NIM). Prof. Ahmed said that insecurity affects our nerves and brings about changes in personality.

Stress is one of the major psychological problems of the 21st century but “we have failed to give it proper attention,” he said, adding that stress makes us prone to several diseases since it weakens the defence mechanism (immune system) of the body.

The PAMH head said that it has been proved that if a person lives under a certain level of stress for three months, he becomes prone to at least three diseases.

Referring to growing the incidence of suicide bombing in Pakistan, he said: “Madrasas were inculcating hatred amongst the youth and they don’t feel any guilt in killing people.” He said intolerance was touching new heights in Pakistani society because “we rarely find empathy amongst our midst”. “If we understand the co-relation between stress and behaviour, we will be able to solve many of our problems,” Prof Ahmed said.

He said great religions have taught us about social justice while Karl Marx postulated the theory that until and unless the working classes have control on the means of production, justice was not possible in a society. He said the theory holds true even today when “we were witnessing exploitation in developing world through globalisation and through institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund”.

He said the World Bank was supposed to eliminate poverty but today billions of people were condemned to survive on $1 per day and according to the United Nations Development Programme 45 per cent of Pakistan’s population had an income of merely $2 per day. He said the HEC in Pakistan was adamant to produce PhDs in haste while it was next to impossible to make a breakthrough in education until and unless a student has a sound primary education. He said that the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) proposed an alternative health policy in 1972 and the then health minister Sheikh Rashid introduced the generic scheme but it was sabotaged by multinational corporations.

Unlike Pakistan, Prof Ahmed said, Bangladesh and India refused to succumb to the pressures of multinational corporations.

A survey conducted in a village near Rawalpindi showed that 36 per cent of its population was suffering from depression, he said.

He regretted that Mental Health Act was passed in 2001 but it was yet to be implemented.

Responding to a question, he said people spend at least five per cent of their budget on health, therefore, the health allocation of the state budget should at least be five per cent. Prof Ahmed said military expenditure needs to be cut. He said whenever there was a peace initiative between Pakistan and India, incidents like the Mumbai carnage happen. He said the people in the subcontinent were living under the umbrella of “balance of terror”.

Answering another question, he said whenever martial law was imposed in Pakistan, it gave the message that power comes through the barrel of gun and the people of Pakistan were being given that message constantly.

A lively panel discussion took place in the second session in which Dr Fouzia Qureshi, Zubeida Mustafa and Faisal Siddiqui advocate participated. Rochi Ram presided over the development forum.


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