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Mental health and fair treatment

Government officers dealing with law and order situation in a volatile region are more liable to depression

Mental health and fair treatment

Mental health is a greater concern than we have realised it. With depression as a case in point, the disease, one of the leading causes of disability among people around the globe, renders people and workers less productive. This suggests that people would be more productive if they were not depressed. Advancing the case of government officials, especially of those dealing with law and order, is significant. At stake is public good.

World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) defines depression as “a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, and poor concentration”. In 2001, a WHO’s report titled “Mental Health: a call for action by world health ministers” ranked depression as the fourth biggest contributor to global burden of diseases among top ten. The same report predicted that by 2020 depression will be the second leading factor of global burden of diseases.

According to WHO’s reviewed fact sheet 2016, an estimated 350 million people are afflicted with depression worldwide. The worst side of depression is that it is a leading contributor to suicide. As WHO’s data shows, 0.8 million people commit suicide annually.

Discussing depression is not without purpose here. In the government sector, many officers, especially those dealing with law and order situation in a volatile region, are more liable to depression than rest of the people. The case of depression that this article is dealing with emanates from discrimination, real or perceived, from within the police department.

What is a common sight is that employees feel comparatively more distressed when they are discriminated against within their own organisation or institution. Examples from the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) are instructive. All successful candidates in the FBSC’s annually held competitive exam called Central Superior Services (CSS) are finally recruited into a dozen or so government departments. Within these departments, some departments are more sought after than others. Generally candidates aspire to joining Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), previously known as District Management Group (DMG), and Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) than the rest of the services. One occasionally hears milder grievances from the employees of the rest of the government departments that although they also pass the same exam, they are not as privileged as their PAS and PSP counterparts.

What is a common sight is that employees feel comparatively more distressed when they are discriminated against within their own organisation or institution.

But employees feel more aggrieved when they are discriminated against employees from the same service group. A case in point is that of a serving DPO from PSP group who is currently posted in Balochistan. A 19 grade government servant, the police officer has been serving for the last two years and ten months in the province.

Hailing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the officer said, “As per government rules, PSP and PAS officers are posted outside their province of origin to Balochistan for a two-year period. If a police officer does not serve in Balochistan for two years, he cannot be promoted to DIG rank.” The officer added, “As per rules, when a police officer completes his two years of service in Balochistan, he will be posted to either his province of origin or any other province where he wants to serve.” Unfortunately, the said police officer has not been relieved from Balochistan despite his transfer is due for the last 11 months.

“My repeated appeals have fallen on deaf ears,” the deeply distressed officer said. “Whenever, I plead my case before the higher ups, I am snubbed and told that until you find someone to replace you, you cannot be relieved,” he continued. “My simple query is, is this my duty to find someone to replace me in a province where no one is willing to serve,” he wondered. “The problem is that generally, police officers from Punjab are not relieved to serve in Balochistan leaving officers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh to serve far longer in the province,” the DPO maintained. According to the officer, every time a police officer from Punjab is transferred to Balochistan, he is not relieved by the Punjab government. He also said that the Balochistan High court has ceased with the matter to no avail yet.

There are two reasons why the government should care about its employees. One, it is the responsibility of state to protect the rights of its citizens without any discrimination. Within a department, this means that rules are applied fairly and universally. In addition to the nature of job, transfer and posting from a location to other leave government officers vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression. The fact that we rarely see an officer as a depression victim has got a lot to do with the stigma attached to mental diseases within the society and the lack of awareness about mental health.

Although the family of Jahanzaib Kakar, the late DPO Jaffarabad, is not convinced that the police officer committed suicide, the fact is that some people are more prone to short spells of chronic depression. The objective of discussing Mr Kakar’s case is to press the point that the desperate need is to be responsive to the pressing needs of government officials in order to arrest the trend of losing more bright officers to depression and other mental diseases of its ilk.

The second and probably the more important reason that the government should mete out fair treatment to its employees is that at stake is public good. There is an alarming body of evidence showing that depression influences a patient’s performance in a powerful way. Put differently, there is an inverse relationship between depression and performance. The increase in level of depression decreases a patient’s performance at work. WHO’s “Mental health: a call for action by world health ministers” identified that among ten leading causes of global disability four were neuropsychiatric disorders, which translates into 30.8 per cent of total disability. Similarly, another WHO’s report entitled “Investing in mental health” published in 2003 shows that four out of six leading causes of disability are neuropsychiatric disorders ranging from depression and alcoholic-use disorders to schizophrenia to bi-polar disorder.

The aggrieved DPO is in-charge of law and order situation in the whole district. His health condition reflected in his behaviour influences the administration of the district. A happy officer is an efficient officer. We definitely need to align what is required of an officer with his motivation. For sure, motivation emanates from fair treatment: of fair trial and timely transfer and promotion. Let us not lose bright officers to the demon of stress, schizophrenia and depression. The urgent need is to act before it is too late!

Farman Kakar

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