Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Treating anxiety among adolescents in Pakistan

Partner Institutes
University of Roehampton Fatima Jinnah Women University

Project brief:
Being a teenager is a tough job – there is pressure to do well at school and get into a good college, the pressure to be socially accepted by peers who can be unquestionably cruel and there are the demands of unreasonable parents who seem to forget that they too were at this awkward stage once upon a time.

It is little wonder then that anxiety is one of the most common problems among adolescents in western countries, affecting up to 18% of people between the ages of 13 and 19. Various sociological and economic factors in Pakistan – escalating poverty, the lack of jobs, poor counselling services, to name just a few – have contributed to a significantly higher rate of anxiety disorders amongst its adolescents. However, no large-scale study has been conducted to date that aims to deal with this growing concern.

The partnership between the University of Roehampton and Fatima Jinnah Women University is seeking to change that by examining the prevalence of anxiety disorders among adolescents in Pakistan and finding ways to control them .

Currently, there is one child psychiatrist in Pakistan for four million children and adolescents with mental health problems. Given the poor health infrastructure within the country, it is understandable that greater attention and resources are devoted to more pressing concerns – such as working with victims of natural disasters. Yet there is need to recognise anxiety as a serious problem that affects human potential, and if unchecked, can trigger other mental disorders such as depression, substance abuse and dependence.

The main objective of the research is to narrow down those unique environmental and cultural factors that cause anxiety in Pakistani teenagers and develop an anxiety-prevention programme to be implemented at the national level. The project also aims to train the end users (caretakers, teachers NGOs etc.) to deliver the programme effectively to a wide range of adolescents.

Lessons learnt:
This would be the first study of its kind which will enable the researchers to identify the prevalence as well as the plausible risk factors for anxiety among Pakistani children and adolescents between the ages of 13 to 19. This will allow the team to manipulate the risk factors that are involved in the development of and maintenance of anxiety.

Challenges faced:
There are many impediments to collecting epidemiologically sound data in developing countries. However, despite the limited resources, it is possible to carry out evidence-based research. This can be facilitated by collaborative efforts which can lead to effective strategies and guidelines to establish future assessments and interventions.

The impacts/benefits of the project:
The development of cost-effective programmes to prevent child and adolescent anxiety disorders will be beneficial not just for the child but also for the family and the society at large. It will increase productivity and enhance potential. 

Key contacts:
Professor Cecilia A. Essau, University of Roehampton

Dr. Farah Qadir, Fatima Jinnah Women University