Depression is a mental disorder which is more common illness than we think. Debilitating, fatigued, feeble, lethargic and powerless — this illness affects the whole body, not just the mind. It can affect the young and the old, the poor and the rich, men and women, the famous and the unknown; it doesn’t discriminate. Furthermore, it is usually misunderstood, largely invisible and the people who suffer from it are extensively stigmatised and even isolated. According to the World Health Organisation, ‘Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression’. In fact, ‘depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide’. It is therefore, most likely that if you haven’t suffered from this debilitating illness that someone you know, love, and care about certainly has at some point in their life. Closer to home, depression affects 34 percent of Pakistan’s population, that’s slightly more than one-third of the population, according to the Pakistan Medical Association. This is 14 percent higher than the average global trend of 20 percent. This is a dismal, gloomy and sombre situation. While the statistics are shocking in themselves, the lack of social and health provisions make it even harder to seek help for people who are depressed. There is, for instance, a widespread stigma attached to depression and other mental health problems in general. Let alone going to a medical professional, people are usually not even willing to admit they are depressed or suffer another form of mental illness for fear of their family’s and friends’ potentially negative reaction. This social stigma is, unsurprisingly, much worse in rural parts of the country than urban areas. Social and cultural views have to be reformed to encourage people to seek medical help where needed Social and cultural views have got to be reformed to encourage people to seek medical help where appropriate. This can be done in a number of ways, such as, through television programmes, speeches at mosques, creating awareness of mental illness at schools and distributing information in ethnic and tribal languages in order to reach villages. In terms of health provisions, there is simply not enough funding being invested in institutions, professionals and research which may be able to counter the rise of mental illness. Compared to the size of the problem, there are far too few people studying to become mental health nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists. But not all is lost. The federal and provincial governments can take effective measures to deal with the rising tide of mental illnesses. Steps can be enacted to provide adequate service for people who suffer from depression. Instead of allocating billions of Rupees to short-sighted infrastructure projects, more money should be invested in projects that aim to improve people’s welfare — both mental and physical. In a Health Services Insights article, which is a reputable academic journal, the authors asserted that mental health services can be improved ‘through political will and strengthened legislation, improved resource allocation and strategic organisation’. These are actions which can only be implemented by politicians. Politicians, regardless of their ideological alignment, should put their petty difference aside to formulate a national policy on how to improve mental health provisions in the country. This is not an act of wishful thinking; in fact, a national consensus can be fostered if there is a political will to deal with the current crisis — as observed in the KP-FATA merger. The next federal and provincial governments, after July 25’s General Election, will therefore have big tasks to accomplish: reform the way mental illnesses are viewed, allocate additional resources and persuade medical students to take up psychiatry. These are by no means easy tasks to accomplish at a time when resources are scarce and other issues engulf administrations; however, improving people’s mental health will undoubtedly have positive knock-on effects on other institutions. A well-known fact, for instance, is that better mental health improves efficiency in educational and work places. Therefore, it should be the priority for the next federal and provincial government to tackle this gigantic challenge. The writer is the author of Diary of a Foreigner: Thoughts on Brexit. He Tweets at @muhammedRaza786 and can be contacted at muhammedHussain1998@Gmail.com Published in Daily Times, June 4th 2018.