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Capacity Building Session with Medical Students in Lahore, Pakistan

The World Psychiatric Association, Pakistan Psychiatric Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry Sidra Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine (Doha, Qatar) Psychiatry Wellness Program and Psychiatry Department and Fatima Memorial Medical College, recently arranged a session to promote psychiatry as a promising career among medical students in Lahore, Pakistan.

In a presentation to students, WPA President Elect, Professor Afzal Javed noted that mental illnesses are a major cause of disease burden globally, and that this year depression is on track to become the second major cause of disability in the world after ischaemic heart disease. Emphasising the overlap between medicine and psychiatry, he noted that psychiatry deals with disorders of thoughts, feelings and behaviours which can be considered as a ‘software’ for the body.

"If the software is not functioning," said Professor Javed, "it can manifest as any problem in the body. So, in fact, psychiatrists need very good medical and surgical knowledge."

He went on to discuss how persons with mental illnesses account for a significant proportion of caseload in primary care settings. Most often, these individuals present as common mental health problems or as a comorbid condition, and are either missed or inappropriately managed. The limited availability of specialist mental health human resources has been one of the barriers in providing essential mental health care to all.

Prof Javed also talked about the negative image of psychiatry and psychiatrists, citing as examples the underestimation of psychiatry and unjustified prejudices from the general public, mass media & healthcare professionals, as well as psychiatry’s own inability to cope favourably with external and internal concerns.

"Looking at the burden of mental illnesses, it is very important we build knowledge and foster a positive attitude toward mental illnesses and psychiatry at the undergraduate level" said Professor Javed. "Building awareness among medical students of psychiatry and psychiatric disorders is key. As future healthcare providers, [they] will be involved in the care of these patients either directly or indirectly during their careers."

Case scenarios & videos were used to improve medical students’ knowledge of common mental illnesses and also to improve the attitude of medical students towards mental illness and psychiatry.

Session facilitators included International faculty from Sidra Medicine, Qatar led by Prof Waqar Azeem such as Dr. Ahsan Nazeer, Dr Durre Shahwar & Dr Muhammad Ather; Dr Zeeshan from USA; Dr Maryam Afzal from the UK; Dr Nasar Sayed from Canada; as well as local facilitators Prof Imran Ijaz Haider, Dr Nazish Imran and Dr Ali Hashmi to name a few.

A further highlight of program was a session on student stress & burnout conducted by recent medical graduate Dr Ayesha Irfan, and medical students Salar Haider & Hafsa Amin. They noted that while an essential aspect of becoming a doctor is learning to be actively involved in taking care of one’s own health; burnout and mental illness are increasing in medical students. They noted that these are serious concerns as they may lead to serious mental health illnesses, substance abuse, suicide and reduced quality of life.

The session was followed by panel discussion chaired by Professor Khalid Mufti.

Author: Professor Imran Ijaz Haider

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