Understanding Mental Illness in Pakistan

Understanding Mental Illness in Pakistan

It must be a sign of evil eye or black magic…
Maybe a stunt to attract attention…
That’s not much of a pain of yours/ his/hers….
Mine was harder but I did not react like this…
What’s the point of acting so weird? Why the majority of people around us say such things?

Because we live in the 21st century, most of us receiving higher education still consider it taboo to discuss mental illness. Getting oneself or others ready to receive psychological help is nothing less than a brave decision in our society where fear of being labeled “mentally ill” or even “pagal” is equal to a threat to our survival.

People in need to have psychological help are often disregarded as they face enormous pressure to stay strong because someone else living near or at the far end of the world had worse. It is quite easy to say that psychological/mental illness is as much important as medical problems, just like people put posts on social media nowadays but according to Tasnuva, “It’s easy to say, but hard to do”, specifically when putting oneself in someone else’s shoes.

But wait, who is someone else? It might be a close family member, a dear friend, a class fellow, a colleague, or an acquaintance.
A friend who is too afraid to participate in class might be called stupid or not enough in his/her family or someone who always disturbs the class often titled attention seeker, he/she may never have had his/ her parents’ attention.
A mother who always looks tired, fatigued and, irritated might be going through postpartum depression after delivering her first or even fourth baby but is always asked to remain strong because someone else had harder than her.
A divorced woman who avoids meeting people might feel anxious about being judged.
A teenager who bullies others in school might be having the toughest of his/her time with abusive parents.
A topper who suddenly performs poorly in exams because he/she may be finding it hard to get over the grief of losing a parent.

These individuals are often met with statements like “it’s your fault” or “you should better deal with this on your own”. It’s not inappropriate to ask someone that he/she must act patiently or stay strong in tough times but the whole point is to understand the context and circumstances of that person.

According to Richard Lazarus who put forward his concept of cognitive appraisal in the book “Psychological Stress and Coping Process” (1966), he defined cognitive appraisal a personal interpretation of a situation that ultimately influences the extent to which the situation is perceived as stressful.
Understanding an individual’s situation, the least one can do is to understand the fact that everyone’s perception is different and so are their reactions. Secondly, it is best not to bring up one’s own trauma or issue as it is perceived more as a disregard of one’s situation. It also shows a lack of empathy. Pakistan is a developing country where myths regarding mental illness still prevail.
Every other day social, print, and electronic media bring news of a suicide case to which the majority responds to as “Imaan ki kami” which represents the lack of sensitivity as one does not know about someone’s suffering. The least one can do is to empathize with someone around it having psychological problems, avoid labeling, and show encouragement to see a mental health professional. Hopefully, that would bring change in Pakistan. In Sha Allah