Karachi: Professor Murad Moosa Khan has been elected as the president of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), the first Asian as well as the first Pakistani in the 60-year history of the Association.

Khan, professor of psychiatry at the Aga Khan University, was selected as head of the Association at the 29th IASP World Congress.

“To me, this is a challenge as well as an opportunity to work with the global community, IASP professionals and volunteers, to prevent suicidal behaviour in our societies,” said Khan.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 800,000 people die due to suicide every year in the world and for 15-29 year olds, it is the second leading cause of death globally. Worse, for every suicide, there are many more people who attempt a suicide.

Although no official data is available for Pakistan, it is estimated that between 130,000-300,000 people attempt suicide and 13,000-15,000 people take their lives every year. “Most suicides are preventable,” said Khan.

“In countries like Pakistan, social factors such as unemployment, lack of access to health, education, housing, transport, justice, and poor law and order create a lot of stress. Severe stress can lead to depression and other mental health illnesses that can lead the individual to think about committing suicide,” said Khan.

Khan aims to work with key stakeholders and advise the government to invest in the mental health sector and come up with a suicide prevention strategy.

“Pakistan needs a viable national mental health strategy, involving different stakeholders including the government, public and mental health professionals and NGOs,” said Khan.

“Training in the early recognition and management of common mental disorders has to be imparted to family doctors, lady health workers and community people. They should be able to discuss symptoms with their patients, help them deal with stigmas attached to mental health and teach them coping skills”, he said. “Parallel to this it is crucial that affordable and accessible mental health services should be developed as well. People should know where they have to go if they suffer from depression or any mental health problems.”

“Around 90 per cent of people who take their lives suffer from some sort of mental health illness at the time of suicide, of which clinical depression is the most common condition,” he added.