It is no surprise that the impact of mental illness can leave a dauntingly long-lasting effect on an individual. This is not just as a result of the issues in itself, but also because of the additional demean and outward stigma that comes automatically attached while being a part of a society that loves to stay in denial. (i.e Pakistan)
“Ye sab kuch sirf dimag mai hai. Asal mai aisa kuch nahi”. (Translation: It’s all in your head. It’s not real)
How many times have you heard this in response to describing any mental difficulty that you were going through? How many times has it left you feeling wholly invalidated?
Here are some reasons which make the impact of mental illness even worse on individuals than it is usually supposed to be; whilst living in a society like ours.
1. Lack of Teacher’s Accountability
Bullying is already a significant issue, but what is even more ironic is teachers being the very reason a child might want to stop pursuing education
said the teacher to a dyslexic child struggling to keep up with academic stability.
Disorders like dyslexia do not mean that a child doesn’t have intelligence, but rather needs a little extra attention during the initial stages. With proper emotional support, it can even get better with time. However, teachers, specifically in Pakistan, are quite ignorant towards the mental health issues/disorders of a student. Impact of mental illness in Pakistan is worse
This results from a couple of issues, the most stagnant being the underpayment of teachers. A good portion of teachers is grossly underpaid, due to largely varied shares of educational institutions. While a few enjoy monopoly, the rest end up paying quite low to teachers, and overburden them with work.
Lack of proper compensation results in the teacher becoming overly frustrated, which comes out in the form of outward demeaning towards students.
Another possible reason is the hiring of less qualified teachers themselves. A teacher’s mind is ingrained with yet conventional paths of either good grades or ultimate failure. This leads them to term below average academic individuals as “incapable”, “lazy”, and what not!
These terms leave a long term impact on such children. The problem could have been reduced if the teacher had decided to be more attentive and tried to identify the root cause instead. They could have simultaneously worked with the child. But guess what? Now the kid has all of his confidence shattered and remains in the delusion that they might never achieve something. The kid has stopped trying altogether!
2. Parents and Pressure
Says Mr. Akmal to Mr. Shayan as Mr. Shayan congratulates him on the birth of his son. The child hasn’t taken their first (literal) step into this world, hasn’t said his first word yet. Yet his professional fate has already been decided. But then the child grows up and realizes he is unable to reach the score required to get into a medical school in Pakistan.
The weakness in memory, or perhaps any other reason, is automatically associated with failure in life overall. The child ends up becoming a patient himself. All of this for what? Now Mrs. Akmal cannot flaunt her son’s achievements in her monthly High Tea parties anymore!
It is no secret that comparison occurs everywhere, in every part of the world. The notion of “feeling behind” or comparing one’s self to peers can have quite a negative impact on the mental health of any individual. There is a lack of counseling services in Pakistan, including career counseling.
A student wanting to pursue anything other than the “conventional” career paths (specifically study in arts) is wholly discouraged. Additionally, Pakistani parents make no concessions in adding fuel to the fire.
Under the name of “rewards” and “social status”, parents put a lot of pressure on their kids to choose a specific path. This ends up having a severely worse impact on a child’s mental health.
Although it is quite better than what it used to be like earlier, having understanding parents is quite still a privilege. Which it shouldn’t be!
3. Disorder Being Related To Superstitions
A significant portion of Pakistanis is unable to access education, for one reason, or the other. A very worrying state is the absolute denial of the existence of mental disorders. Studies have shown that, owing to reasons such as lack of literacy and unawareness, a significant portion of residents of rural areas associates mental illness as a result of evil eye or black magic.
An example of this is a schizophrenic patient attributed to being possessed by Jins or by God’s will. Inevitably, instead of being treated by a psychiatrist, the patient is taken to religious Healers or some form of shamanic treatment(religious practice).
While the treatments may or may not be effective, scientific research has shown little agreement between the causes and treatments identified in an actual DSM diagnosis compared to the ones done by religious Healers (and other such treatments).
It is very harmful to a patient not to have received professional psychiatric help. It can lead to harmful behaviors, including symptoms and outcomes as worse as suicide/suicidal thoughts.
Such mishaps can be prevented if proper help is availed, but alas, there is no such particular concept in a significant portion of the Pakistani population. This is how, living in a nation like Pakistan ends up having a worse impact on a previously possibly controllable mental illness.
4. Outward Stigma
“Psychiatrist ke paas kyun jana hai? Tumhe hamari izzat ka koi khayal hai ke nahi?” Izzat. Respect. Log kya kahengay. What will people think? Tum pagal thori ho?”
Aunties and uncles in Pakistan are particularly obsessed with what others think about them. This point is related to the previous one but focuses on the stigma attached to mental illness in specific. This mindset has killed young creative souls, not just metaphorically, but also quite literally in some cases.
Guess what aunties and uncles? Your neighbor Rukhsana will backbite about you even after your son/daughter gets their degree from Harvard, but couldn’t provide her with the kind of boti she wants in her biryani at your child’s wedding.
What outward respect are you trying to save when you don’t respect your children enough to give them the treatment that they deserve. Alas! Even if a child recognizes that something is wrong with his mind, no one takes his requests seriously!
It is quite essential to understand the existence of such stigma. Because when left unattended, mentally ill people are subjected to isolation from the society. They are rendered as useless, or incapable of intelligence or competency, which is quite far from the truth.
Moreover, talking about it leads to responses such as the problem being an “overreaction”, “inability to cope up with small issues” (specifically towards people with Generalised Anxiety Disorder), and thousands of other derogatory remarks. Instead of receiving treatments, the demeaning feedback makes a worse impact of mental illness on an individual in Pakistan.
5. Self stigmatization and unawareness
“I don’t want to talk about my anxiety or depression with people because I don’t want to be a burden on anyone”. “Maybe it is my own fault”.
Nothing is more hurtful than knowing that the stigma isn’t just from outside, but also exists within. It gets twisted when the individual feels embarrassed by themself or is unaware of their problem. Honey, you are not at fault, and you are not a burden.
The sooner you realise this, the better you will be able to gather your inner strength to reduce, if not absolutely eliminate your pain. It is true, that one shouldn’t explain their issues at the expense of another’s mental health. But believe me, there are some people out there, who would willingly listen to you without having their mental health at stake.
Please reach out, and please don’t feel like a burden. It is highly recommended having talked to someone about this. If you still feel uncomfortable (because I understand it’s difficult),there are online websites like 7 cups, which have volunteer listeners and you could explain your problem, anonymously, via chat.
At the end of the day, seeking out professional help is what will help you truly get through this. Please reach out to therapy or any psychiatric help! And always remember, it is not your fault, it is not an insignificant issue, your pain is valid, and lastly, you are not alone.
Overall Impact of Mental Illness in Pakistan
It is true that a lot of reasons mentioned here do appear elsewhere, some in even developed countries. However, it does not negate the fact that these statistics vary distinctly, and are found in huge amounts in developing countries like Pakistan.
The impact of mental illness does not just pertain to an individual’s mental health, but also greatly affects physical health. In fact, mental health and physical health are quite co-related. For example, it has been proven that depression can lead to coronary heart diseases. Similarly, poor physical health leads to poor mental health. It is quite a shame how mental health is still less prioritized.
As implied throughout, a society’s perception of mental illness has a lot to with the societal pressures a mentally ill person has to endure. In developing nations like Pakistan, such individuals are likely to be hugely discriminated against and marginalized. Likewise, it can also become challenging for the individual themself to contribute productively due to the fair amount of mental blockage(e.g. burnouts) that comes along with mental health issues.
Is it all bad ?
Fortunately, as of now, mental health is getting taken more seriously in Pakistan than it used to be. Physical and digital platforms are being developed to treat or spread awareness.
The Meraki in itself is one of a kind, digitalized Pakistani magazine, which continuously works towards spreading mental health awareness, and contains quite a significant amount of therapeutic content.
Causes of mental illnesses are not always straightforward. However, proper professional and emotional help can go a long way! Even if you think it’s “just in their heads” (which it’s not), why is it not enough? Isn’t the fear of losing a job “just in our heads” until it actually happens?
Why is that valid and mental illness not? It is significant to recognise, that it is not a result of the individual’s fault. It is even more important for others to be mindful of how others are doing mentally.
Let us make a combined effort to understand each other better. Let’s not invalidate anyone’s pain.