“They, They just do not understand… No no, They don’t want to understand! My insides are screaming.. Why can’t they hear the cries? Why don’t they simply care?”
“I’m sorry.. I’m so so sorry” I uttered with a ball of emotion forming in my throat.
As a Psychologist from a 3rd World Country- where socio-cultural facades and tidied self-images are valued more than the mental and emotional wellbeing of a young individual and where alarmingly somber statistics of the country’s collectively degenerating mental health are casually brushed under the rug by the ‘elders’ of the family and the state- hearing these words was not atypical to me. But my reaction, was. As Psychologists, we are trained to keep our personal emotions well out of the counselling room to abstain from biases and unwanted attachments. But today, the last straw had been stacked at the feeble back of the camel wandering in the dessert of my horror stricken heart. Today, the petrified words of this 17 years old girl with unkempt hair, flooding eyes and severe depression had spoken to me in a voice that shook my core.
As an ill informed and unconcerned Nation, we need to forswear our false belief that avoiding difficult questions will help us in eloping horrific consequences. We are, unfortunately, a nation of ‘roti, kapra makaan’ mentality, fixated on the physical aspect of life, totally ignorant of the fact that the stability of our inner life (our thoughts, feelings and emotions) is essential for us us to navigate peacefully and successfully in the physical world. Our enervated Mental Health state is the elephant in the room that we have ignored for so long that now it’s glaring right in our eyes in all it’s vengeful glory. It’s about time that we initiate raw, uncensored mental health conversations at all levels of our society. According to WHO statistics for 2022, over 30-50 million people suffer from mental illnesses in Pakistan. It is estimated that 24 million people in Pakistan are in need of psychiatric assistance with mental illness rates higher among women. With regards to Depression, a study conducted in Lahore found that 39.3% of the participants had symptoms of depression (Muhammad et al., 2019), while another study in Karachi found that the prevalence of depression was 31% (Ali et al., 2017), the numbers soaring higher and higher with the advent of the Covid Age.
Why then, do we still persist on stigmatizing seeking aid for Mental illnesses and reduce the brave souls who seek psychological help to dehumanizing whispers of insanity and name calling? For decades, our older generations have taken pride in sacrificing their mental wellbeing and remaining quiet on the issues of domestic abuse, rapes, childhood traumas, motherhood adjustment issues, academic stress and so on for the greater good of the family and society. ‘What will people say?’ has always been our chief concern rather than creating an external life which aligns with our inner psychological nature. I have witnessed Parents unintentionally wishing for a dead daughter over a divorced or for desiring a doctor son instead of an emotionally stable one! To burst our all is well illusion bubble, these defective measures to keep a good social image has bred a confused young generation that lacks fundamental emotional intelligence, stress management skills, decision making abilities and interpersonal maturity. And amidst all this, when they finally gather the courage and wisdom to realize that they cannot, in fact, keep up with the unrealistic standards of sanity and success cultivated by the condescending and equally discombobulated minds of the previous generations, they are belittled and sushed for seeking professional help to escape the labyrinth of their emotional hurricane, dysfunctional relationships and academic pressures! It’s high time for us to apprehend that our substandard approach towards solving these grave issues is doing us more harm than good.
Back in my counselling room in the long, agonizing silence between myself and my patient, I painfully wondered how different our exhausted state of affairs would be if we just start being concerned about the inner battles of our friends, family and foe, If in place of asking ‘Have you gained weight?’ or ‘Why did you get only 70% this time?’ , we start inquiring ‘Are you happy, is there something that you want to talk about?’, If we start holding people accountable for making Mental health jokes in family gatherings, workplaces and street sides, If we treat Mental illnesses as real diseases instead of a mere gen Z concept, If we let people heal out of their past traumas instead of suppressing them enough to turn them into aggression and frustration, If we just clap for Mental Health fighters rather than passing mean comments- How different, how peaceful, how productive and companionate of a world will we create for ourselves and others.
A good Psychologist, they say, heals through the magic of words. But today, all my thoughts led to forming no sentences. No powerful metaphors. No soothing anecdotes. Today, I was just as helpless as the defeated soul sitting in front of me. In that moment of my helplessness and her gravitas, she looked deep in my eyes with a look of validation and understanding- for she knew that I, and a cornucopia of diverse mental health activists have attempted to advocate their case of mental wellbeing, therapeutic intervention and overt emotional expression to the court of the masses for centuries, but alas! The cases, all lost. Why? You may ask. Because in the case of the spade of crimes against Mental health uplifting in our country- the jury, the offender, the audience and the punishment are all the same- The Pakistani Society. You. Me.
‘I’m sorry’ I repeated.
And the session was over.
Simmal is a young, Aspiring Clinical Psychologist with a deeply ingrained passion towards promoting psychological wellbeing and healthy conversations and debates around the subject of Mental Health and its Uplifting in Pakistan. Her Fervour towards the field led her to be appointed as the Director of Psychology Department of The International Leadership Training Institute (John C. Maxwell’s Institution Operating in Islamabad, Pakistan), at just 21 years of age. Her Chief Aim, professionally, is to bridge the gap between 3rd World Countries and psychological interventions and Therapy.