Breaking The Stigma Of Mental Health

Mental disorders exist in every society, in every culture but their treatments depend solely on the type of culture you are living in and in my culture, it seems to be nonexistent placing a huge responsibility on the shoulders of its learned population.

An immediate relative was reported to have developed some erratic doings; Screaming without any reason, blacking out and experiencing a brief attack of paralysis in her arm and leg, were the major symptoms. To make the matter worse, her family believed it to be the result of a jin. Her father took her to four different Mullahs or ‘Pirs’ to exorcise her of the Jin, but all in vain. Obviously, using oxygen to extinguish the fire, will prove you only a nincompoop for aggravating it. Recently, that person stopped by our home, and by accident, we had to discuss his daughter. My brother and I tried hard to walk him through mental health, and even I called his attention to so many instances relating to the issue of his daughter to convince him for her treatment, it didn’t help at all. Alas!

The person was quite obstinate in his arguments and instead wanted us to have a faith in his 17-year-old son, who showed him some videos of a so-called ‘Pir’ (In those videos, some of his devotees could be seen, extolling his outstanding incantation, needless to say, how those videos are forged to dupe people) I told him about modern-day propaganda and campaign to exploit the gullibility of common people like him. He didn’t budge from his stance, proving that you can not beat conspiracy-ridden minds with logic so I had to surrender. Nevertheless; at the end of the argument, I asked him to make it his last shot, if it doesn’t work, he will have to take her to a psychiatrist and apparently he agreed.

People would be a torment to themselves and others, would be spending a great deal of time and amount on conjuration, on amulets, on Peers; mental health, on the other hand, remains a white elephant, brushing-under-the-carpet factor.

Today, I discovered that the girl was physically tortured, beaten with a pipe and given electroshocks by the ‘Pir’ to evict jin of her body. According to the stepmother of the girl, there are countless bruises on her body, spreading out excruciating pain; she anathematized the ‘Pir’ throughout the chat. All of a sudden, my mind started thinking back to the gruesome incident of Sargodha where a custodian of a shrine tortured and killed 20 people, in the name of ritual cleansing. What if the same had happened to the girl? I am sure, the family would have forgiven him for his religious affiliation. Plus, it’s not that the father didn’t want to spend on her, believe me, he was ripped off 30,000 by another ‘Pir’ for some other issue but when it comes to mental health, our people find it extremely difficult to dismiss the possibilities of a giant (Jinn), and in the case of a girl? Mentioning mental health would be destructive, to be honest, who would want to marry a mentally unstable? Heard so many women decrying.

In Pashtun society, having a psychological issue, is TABOO, a STIGMA that nobody wants to be associated with. They would be a torment to themselves and others, would be spending a great deal of time and amount on conjuration, on amulets, on Pirs; mental health, on the other hand, remains a white elephant, brushing-under-the-carpet factor. Besides, exorcism, our people, consider marriage to be the ultimate solution to treat psychologically ill people. You must have heard parents saying ” شادی کر کے ٹھیک ہوجائے گا” endangering the lives of so many innocents. While some patients remain harmless, others could be a severe menace to their partners. A paranoid killing of his wife for perceived cheating, or a delusional stabbing of his partner multiple times, given his delusions demanded him, are some of the practical examples from our daily lives. The fact, that these disorders could not heal on their own and must require hospitalisation of the patients, sever any possibility of getting them to acknowledge their problem and accordingly, they continue to pose a danger to themselves and others.

Our people, consider marriage to be the ultimate solution to treat psychologically ill people. You must have heard parents saying “Shadi Kar Ke Theek Ho Jaye Ga” endangering the lives of so many innocents.

Being mindful of genetics, physiological fluctuations, or the ramifications of substance or drug addiction, stress is considered to be the leading factor engendering mental illness. If we talk about the girl, so her mother died in labour, leaving a daughter of a few hours, apart from dozen other kids; as if it were not enough she thought to start going to a religious school (madrassa), and it would not have been an issue either, only if she were a literate (For an illiterate person, learning religious books could be challenging). Well, this is not something I am claiming off the top of my head, according to the recent research of GCSEs, Of the 1,000 young people surveyed, six in ten (59%) 13 to 17 year-olds say they are experiencing mental health difficulties, such as anxiety, low mood, eating disorders and self-harming behaviours. More than half (53%) now say that academic stress is having a greater negative impact on their mental health than loneliness (49%) or uncertainty about their future (44%). Isn’t it rather evident? There could be a raft of other reasons, but they all lead to the same road: stress.

I am not saying that people should deny the existence of ‘Jinnaat’ altogether, obviously, we believe them to exist, bearing culture and even religion in our mind, but concluding it to be the exclusive derivation, is committing harm to the person and the society en masse. I remember being an intern in a government hospital for a while and I saw a patient who believed herself to be a walking dead body. Another man insisted to be a prophet and even demanded the hospital announce his prophethood to the world. They were in the hospital, but imagine them letting out all this to the people surrounding them? Death sentence from a court, or slain by a mob, would have been the fate of the person who claimed to be a prophet. Hospital, however, somehow saved him.

The stigma around mental health and stereotypical attitude towards the affectee will have to be diminished and for that, not just the administration, but even society will have to play its role.

Mental disorders exist in every society, in every culture but their treatments depend solely on the type of culture you are living in and in my culture, it seems to be nonexistent placing a huge responsibility on the shoulders of its learned population. The stigma around mental health and stereotypical attitude towards the affectee will have to be diminished and for that, not just the administration, but even society will have to play its role. People will have to be educated about mental health and how their treatment doesn’t involve any shame. If you could get treatment for your diabetes and hypertension or hypotension, why not for mental health? The brain is the master of the body and if your brain is not functioning well, how could you expect your body to function normally? Furthermore, our religious scholars and motivational speakers need to educate the hoi polloi, given they are the only people who hold a strong influence on them, for instance, look at Molana Tariq Jamil or Qasim Ali Shah, how people blindly, I mean wholeheartedly follow their words. In addition, by offering inexpensive treatment, the government could utilise clinical psychologists to spread awareness among people, to win their confidence so they could ensure better treatment for their loved ones.

People with mental health, need to be offered compassionate and sympathetic feedback enhancing their confidence and eliminating their apprehensions around mental health illness. They should be a responsibility, not a liability.

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2 Comments
  1. SAMEER KHAN says

    The writer has amazing skills to highlight such a grave issue in a factual way.
    Deserves a pride of performance

  2. Husna says

    It’s just a great way to publish this kind of blog for the people of Pakistan especially for Pashtoon society Your point of view is so refreshing. You have a remarkable understanding of these topics.

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