The Stigma Against Discussing Mental Health in Pakistan

In Pakistan it’s looked down upon by society to even discuss mental health let alone get treatment.  And in the very few instances that one does talk about mental health, they are often deemed as ‘soft’ or ‘a sissy’. And when you have officially reached the edge and are literally craving human interaction and decide to talk about your issues, most people just criticize you instead of giving you genuinely helpful advice. Many Pakistani teens experience this and here’s how some of them responded to the question “What are your opinions on the stigma against talking about mental health in Pakistan and how has it affected you personally?”

“Mental health in itself is a really diverse spectrum. For a person who one might consider an introvert, being in  A-level has further magnified the mental health issues. Everyday in A-level presents infinite possibilities and just the sheer amount of things happening everyday can give you a lot of anxiety. Being socially anxious is a disaster as it takes away many of the infinite possibilities because you’re unsure about how things might unfold. On top of that, talking to your family about this only causes more problems as they provide you with non viable solutions. The worst thing about having mental health issues is that people will often expect you to behave like you don’t have them. Every day, you have to fake happiness just so people don’t think of you as a buzzkill or a negative person. Some people might even call you ‘too sensitive’. I for one have found my remedy: Talk to your friends about your problems. You will be surprised at how so many people are facing the same problems as you. If talking to friends does not help and you feel that talking to them will make them walk away, talk to a senior as they have been through the same phase as you. Don’t keep your feelings locked inside for long!”

Mohammed Fahad, A1, LACAS ALJT

“I believe that it does matter to whom you discuss it with. Talking about it to my parents was always hard, I do come from a conservative and religious background and when I did open up to my father and openly cried I was actually told “magarmach k aansu hain,” and was told that just because I have everything I need and I have strong financial support from him – there’s no actual reason why I should be sad because I’m stressed. Most people don’t get the concept of being sad in a way that sometimes you don’t even know you’re sad, because at a point I was always down and I didn’t even know why. I just wanted to lay down and never get up. Some days I would be social with my friends and have fun but then again some days I would want to curl up in my bed alone and not do anything (not even listen to sad boi music). While opening up to someone else, like a close friend can be a better option, especially if your friend isn’t narrow minded like most Pakistani people, when I expressed my feelings to people, I felt like they’d call me an attention seeker and that this is all a public stunt. I always felt like I was overreacting because I genuinely did not know why I was sad. I was just sad. There was no reason for it. I was told to believe I was overreacting because of what I thought people might think if they saw me like this because since always people have known me to be bubbly, lively and funny who’s social all the time – but that’s honestly not the truth. Coming back to the question, I believe that with our generation, change is coming. Mental health is discussed far more and this stigma is slowly fading away. Going to therapists and psychologists is not looked as something shameful and getting help when needed is easier now.”

Esha Fatima, A1, LACAS ALJT

“I wouldn’t really consider myself to have experienced everything mental health patients go through, but I can easily say I’ve been through most of it. One of the major reasons for depression is obesity and how insecure you feel when you’re obese. It’s like you’re in a war with your own mind. The past 7 months, I’ve felt
nothing but positive vibes. It is true ,losing weight/getting fit improves your mental health a lot. People try to disagree with that but at the end of the day, it’s a fact. During these times you find your true friends. Anyone can be your friend during your high time, but the real ones stay and motivate you to get your life straight in dark times. I remember being depressed about how I was getting more overweight day by day. Every day kids would bully me, people would come to me and tell me how I’m getting larger and my clothes are getting tighter. I honestly don’t know how I would’ve gotten out of that phase without my friends and family. But we shouldn’t be afraid of opening up about it. Not every friend helps ,many taunt and tease. But there always will be those few who will make sure you get through the tough times. Started from 150 kg with no hope, now on 117 full of hope. But wanna know what’s better? I finally feel like I’m starting to get my life together.”

Mohammed Mesum Naqvi, AS, Orbit International School, Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia

“We often think of stigmas as nuisances and barriers, but they’re more sinister than that – stigmas can kill. I remember coming to Lahore two years ago and how everyone would often say life’s terrible, there’s no happiness here, etc. Back then I passed them off as edgy comments, until I found out that Lahore has the highest number of depressives – 53% of the city’s entire population. In a society that thrives off of the misinterpretation of religion, it comes as no surprise that it nurtures the barriers against seeking mental health care. I think my biggest concern is how we misuse religion to relieve ourselves of any burden, thinking we’ve done our part by only telling someone to pray. While many of us do find solace in religion, It’s fundamentally ignorant for us to assume that it’s just as easy for every other human being to do the same. A few months ago, I realized that there is a critical need for efficient and accessible mental care systems in Pakistan. So I decided to make “Sukoon”, an online platform where anyone can reach out and get undeterred, quick access to mental care. In countries such as Pakistan, the union of technology and therapy is vitally important if we’re going to fight stigmas around mental health and make care more accessible. While I never state that this online platform is the complete alternative, we need to understand that the statements of it  being an alternative come from a place of privilege. For millions of people across the subcontinent, such online platforms aren’t necessarily considered as an alternative, but rather the only option they may have. The fight against stigmas starts at an individual level, individual changes that collectively create impact. Next time you see someone who seems to not be ok, even if it’s a stranger, go on and talk to them. The worst that could happen is that they tell you to mind your own business – but the best that could happen is you become a shoulder for someone who really needed it.”

Muhammad Marsad Siddique, Founder, CEO Sukoon Mental Services

Just like every other Pakistani family my family was also living in a fantasy where not talking about your issues made you stronger or whatever the cliche is. But when a close family member started having panic attacks, everything changed. My family started opening up to each other. No matter how much the panic attacks hurt the relative, me or anyone, it gave my family the ability to talk about our feelings openly. No more walls. It gave my family a new perspective on life, how every moment matters and we can’t let anything eat us up from the inside out, and I’ve never been happier. This change in mentality is a surprise, to be sure, but definitely a welcome one.

Abdullah Adnan, AS, Orbit International School, Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

Article Curated by Abdullah Wasif
TLC Writer

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