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Psychologist Rejects the 12 Million Figures but Agrees: Iranian Society Suffers from Depression and Leans Towards Violence

By Niusha Saremi (source: Rooz Online)

A member of Iran’s parliamentary committee on health and treatment announced that 12 million Iranians suffer from mental illnesses and added, “But despite the large number of individuals with mental issues, there are only 40,000 hospital beds for them.” In the past too, many other specialists had spoken of a shortage of beds and other facilities needed for those suffering from psychological illnesses.

To get a better sense of the 12 million number Rooz spoke with psychologist Doctor Asqar Kayhannia. He rejected this number and said, “We have people who have mental issues, who are depressed, who have peculiar pessimistic views, etc. These people suffer from these illnesses primarily because of unemployment, economic pressures, corruption and other social ills. They have problems that can be easily treated. But this is different from someone who has a psychological issue and needs to be hospitalized in a treatment center and treated by a qualified psychotherapist.” Kayhannia disagrees in using this number to indicate people who suffer from psychological issues.

Government officials also have talked about mental issues facing the population. Iraj Harirchi, the deputy minister of health for example, had said earlier that between 24 to 28 percent of Iranians suffered from some form of mental and psychological issue and consequently needed professional intervention and treatment. While Kayhannia clarifies that there is a difference between those who display signs and symptoms of mental disorders and those who have psychological issues, he nevertheless says that the numbers presented by the ministry of health are generally realistic. “Our society today suffers from depression, anxiety and tendency towards violence, particularly among the youth. Many people suffer from nervous issues because of unemployment, and financial and economic problems. But people who have mental issues cannot necessarily be classified as individuals with psychological problems.” He differentiates between psychological issues and issues that arise from stress and social pressure.

Tehran has More People with Mental Issues than Other Cities

Last year it was announced that 21 percent of the population of Iran and 34 percent of people in Tehran have some form of mental or psychological disorder. Doctor Ahmad Jalili, the former head of Iran’s psychological association, who is now its senior advisor, had earlier told Rooz of the growing number of individuals with mental issues in Iran adding that the trend was in line with global trends in this regard. “These figures for the world are about 25 percent, depending on how the calculations are made. There are of course differences between countries and also between urban and rural residents. But 25 percent is the general average.”

Pointing to the 13 percent different in the number of people with mental issues between Iran’s rural and urban populations, he said “Life in Tehran is more stressful and difficult than in other cities. Shortage of time, scarcity of living resources, air pollution, lack of health resources, greater stress, pressure from work and general urban issues are the problems facing the residents of the capital,” he says.

Kayhannia agrees with this picture and says, “Society is anxious, and because of the changes in laws, negative news and lack of stability that exists in society, people are under stress and have tension in their life.” He believes that people who suffer from mental illnesses should have access to “free of charge treatment or at least minimal charges for consultations etc. Many suicides, spouse-killings, and children murders are caused by mental pressures and a sense of impotence. Economic issues can be among the most important causes for anxiety and a sense of powerlessness. If special centers are created where people could go and get free consultations, the number of theft and violence will drop.”

He attributes the high cost of psychological and psychotherapy services and consultations to be a cause of people not resorting to professional help in this regard.

But the shortages are not only for those who suffer from mental issues. Psychological patients who require more serious support and assistance also face some serious issues in gaining access to medical resources. Ahmad Jalili who is the secretary of the federation for Asian psychology associations concurs with the problems that mental patients face and adds, “There is in fact no support for psychological patients and their needs are not provided. Mental patients lack treatment resources, mental treatment facilities, medicine, access to psychologists or psychotherapists, and mental centers.”

He believes the greatest problem is cost. According to him, “Insurance companies cover most medical issues but as soon as mental health is mentioned they bail out and say their contracts do not cover them. This is a very disturbing reality.”

According to official numbers, some 16 percent of the country’s population lack any health insurance. This covers some 13 million people who must pay completely for their medical needs. The situation becomes more disturbing when we take note that mental issues can lead to physical illnesses, thus denying any medical insurance coverage to such individuals.

Women more Than Men

The latest statistics issues by the ministry of health indicate that mental issues among women top their problems. This is the second cause of death and disabilities among men, coming after pre-meditated and non-premeditated events - which are mostly traffic related accidents. According to Abbas-Ali Nasehi, a director general at the ministry of health. He says, “The latest research of the ministry which took ten years to complete indicates that 26.5 percent of women and 20.8 percent of men suffer from some form of mental issue during a year, and women lead the numbers.” According to statistics released by the Iran Statistical Center, 5.14 percent of women who are the head of a household suffer from mental disorders. While doctors give many reasons for the rise in mental problems, Doctor Mirsepasi recently told ISNA student news agency that, “Economic and social issues have in recent years played a dominant role in spreading mental issues, and statistics indicate this.” Jalili too points the figure at the economic crisis facing the country, threats, rapid social changes and other issues to be the cause of the expansion of mental issues in Iran.

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