International Federation for Mental Health and the United Nations has designated October 10, as mental health day to highlight the importance of mental health. Every year a topic is selected related to mental health. Seminars, conferences are held in countries all over the world and those involved write articles in newspapers, magazines, and periodicals.
For the year 2019, the topic selected is “Suicide Prevention”. In developing countries, the highest rate of suicide is found in the young. While I was considering the above topic of this year’s World Mental Health Day, I spontaneously thought of a couple, an extraordinary and unparalleled husband and wife who, without a shadow of doubt, could be called ‘Legends of Psychiatry’ due to their mammoth and historical contribution towards the cause of the Young People’s Mental Health. They are none other than Prof. Dr. Ijaz Tareen and Prof. Dr. Khalida Tareen. Their focused, dedicated and extensive service in the field of mental health during the last four decades has been a beacon of light for others. After completing their medical education and a short period of service in Mayo Hospital Lahore they went abroad to pursue higher studies in mental health. They had excellent job offers to work and live in the UK for the rest of their lives following completion of their studies, but the passion to serve the downtrodden and poor young people and their families brought them back to Pakistan. This decision was not easy to make considering the facilities and comfort being offered by an advanced country like the UK, and the odds and difficulties they could expect to face back home in Pakistan. Both the husband and wife had the right resilience and strong will to face all adversities that came their way. I often think that their plan to return to Pakistan and serve the ailing humanity here was part of a greater scheme of things of Allah Almighty, the Most Gracious, and the Most Merciful. During their lengthy and arduous career of service to the mentally ill young people and their families, they continued to support each other with their best abilities, complementing each other in the pursuit of their supreme goal of serving the very marginalized sections of our society.
While Prof. Khalida Tareen established the Department of Child Mental Health and has the honor of being the first child psychiatrist of our country. Prof. Ijaz Tareen with an undaunting will and untiring efforts visualized, planned, organized and established “State of the Art” multi-purpose psychiatric department on modern lines keeping in view the long term future needs. When the Government of Pakistan imposed restrictions on the sale and use of opium it was Dr. Tareen’s pioneer and bold initiative in organizing and establishing the department catering to the treatment of addicts which was the first and largest in Pakistan. It was visited and highly praised by no less a person than late Princess Diana when she came to Pakistan.
Shortly after their return with a few like-minded friends, they established a Charity for the emotionally and mentally handicapped children for their education, training, and rehabilitation. In 1981 a School “Special Education and Training Centre” was established under their dynamic leadership in a rented building but was later shifted to Johar Town, Lahore. Over time, the functioning system for this school was expanded. Children and women belonging to lower socio-economic groups and homeless families were also provided with education.
Prof. Khalida Tareen had the honor of being on the Advisory Panel of W.H.O on mental health. The Government of Pakistan awarded her Sitara-i-Imtiaz in recognition of her services in the area of social and academic field. She is also Professor Emeritus, Child Psychiatry at King Edward Medical University.
Prof. Ijaz Tareen as Head of the Academic Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, King Edward Medical College in addition to his research and academic activities directed his efforts towards removing the stigma of mental illness. I was lucky to work with him after the completion of my medical education. To describe his personality as a teacher, a physician, a dedicated worker, and his selfless services for the mentally ill is a tall order.
It has been three decades since I have been working as a Psychiatrist in England. I have also traveled to several different countries where I had an opportunity to meet with numerous professors and research scholars who provided me with a chance to exchange views with them. I can, therefore, say with conviction that no one was able to impress me the way Professor Ijaz Tareen had. Throughout my psychiatric career, I was not only provided with his guidance but also with countless opportunities for immense learning whenever I had the chance to interact with him regarding any aspect of a mental health issue. In my view, he is the only psychiatrist who is not only known in our country but also all around the world is well known for his academic abilities.
Former Dean and President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (Prof. Andrew Sims) last year sent an Email to Prof Ijaz Tareen’s daughter Dr. Eaisha Tareen “I wondered if you had a picture/photograph which you could send me of your father. I have looked him up on the internet and he is such a modest fellow that, although there are masses of pictures of colleagues, students, etc. there are none of him. I have to give a lecture in Leeds in a few weeks and I thought I would talk about some of the people who have influenced psychiatry around the world – hence my request”.
It is my firm belief that Prof. Ijaz Tareen’s role in providing new modality in the field of psychiatry is revolutionary and has changed the face of psychiatry in Pakistan resulting in restoring the self-respect of patients and their families and in removing the stigma of mental illness from the society. This historical role puts him in the league of renowned personalities from the 18th century such as William Tuke of the U.K., Philippe Pinal of France and Benjamin Rush of the U.S.A. An arduous and daunting task of giving a new face to the psychiatry and mental illness started during the 1970s from Bahawalpur where he laid the foundation of the department of psychiatry. This achievement was repeated in Multan and finally, he got assigned to Lahore where he went into full gear, achieving the unachievable in spite of hurdles, resistance, and restraints.
A hall in the department of psychiatry, Mayo Hospital, Lahore, was named after Prof. Ijaz Tareen for the sole purpose of education. It is known as “Tareen Hall” now. The desire for serving the poor and downtrodden section of the community had always been part of his personality from the very beginning and is evident from the very fact that even as a student he established a Lending Library for the poor and needy students while he was a President of the College Union. Once in college magazine KEMCOL, there was an article detailing his activities captioned “Service before self” highlighting his efforts.
After retiring from Government service his services and devotion in the form of a free clinic for the mentally ill have continued unabated. I hope, wish and pray for them to succeed and flourish in untiring services in the cause of weak and needy and may God continue to bless them and bestow on them a long and happy life, Ameen! I do not doubt in my mind that their untiring efforts to improve the plight of the mentally ill and their services to the poor and needy will be a guiding star for the generations of doctors and their name will serve as a landmark in the history of our country.