Rifaat Ramzan lay in a hospital bed with a blank stare, still traumatised weeks after losing his best friend, Noman, to a suicide bomber.
“He had just told me how it is good to dream and we will achieve our dreams,” said Ramzan, who began sleeping with a gun under his pillow, fearful he too will be killed in Pakistan’s relentless violence.
In the conflict between Taliban insurgents and Pakistan’s army, thousands have been killed in bombings of everything from military and police facilities to crowded street markets; even a volleyball match was attacked. Countless others have been wounded. “This is alarming us,” said psychologist Najam Younes. Some people are too depressed to function. Others are gripped by anxiety attacks, paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Flashbacks are common.
But the problem is that people caught up in the violence — mostly living in the epicentre of the conflict in the northwest — have no access to psychological care facilities.
Those who can afford it often don’t get the attention they need because there are too few doctors, who are often overworked and cannot provide therapy, only medicine. Peshawar’s Sarhad Psychiatric Hospital, located on the same complex of a prison where militants awaiting trial and other hard core criminals are held, is one example. It is the only proper mental health facility in the northwest.