Talking about mental health issues is frowned upon practically everywhere in the world. Affected people are purportedly the victims of witchcraft or are under the influence of evil spirits. Patients are occasionally held responsible by society for their ailments. Odd or aggressive behaviour is a symptom of many mental diseases. Acting this manner will likely result in hatred, contempt, or dread. Electroshocks, beatings, or jails are still often used in many places as responses to aggressive, out-of-control conduct or even severe despair. The prevalence of mental diseases is rising worldwide, and Pakistan faces particular difficulties in mental health. In addition, the ongoing natural disasters like the floods and the COVID-19 pandemic’s residual effects hurt Pakistanis’ mental health. Unfortunately, Pakistan still views mental health as taboo, increasing the number of people with untreated mental illnesses.
Mental health in Pakistan
With less than 500 psychiatrists per million people and one of the lowest mental health indices, Pakistan is home to close to 200 million people. Due to a lack of mental health professionals in Pakistan, more than 90% of the population suffers from untreated mental illnesses. Although there are fewer psychiatrists in Pakistan, and it seems more people are aware of mental health issues, stigma is still attached to it. Additionally, there are other issues related to mental healthcare. For example, it is regarded as affluence, taboo, and something that shouldn’t be discussed or revealed.
Reasons behind mental health being a taboo in Pakistan
A taboo or tabu is a restriction placed on something because of cultural beliefs that it is excessively repulsive, sacred, or only acceptable to specific individuals. Taboo subjects are all those things happening but cannot be discussed. For example, measuring a nation’s lack of mental health education is possible when the words “mental” and “mad” are synonyms. Since mental health is associated with derogatory connotations, it is still taboo nationwide.
Everything surrounding “men don’t cry”
Men don’t cry and “man up!” are two highly distressing and regrettably frequently used phrases in Pakistan. This causes an attitude that says guys shouldn’t express their emotions and can’t have feelings. This profoundly affects how guys develop and how they express their feelings. Men become angrier and more aggressive when they restrain themselves from expressing their vulnerabilities. As a result, men are more likely than women to commit suicide and experience desperation because men are expected to keep their emotions to themselves. The taboo around mental health in Pakistan becomes further entrenched when the country’s male population, which makes up 51.4%, is instructed to keep their feelings to themselves and refrain from discussing them.
Psychiatric patients seek help from spiritual healers
Many people in Pakistan rely entirely on religious healers to treat their psychiatric ailments because the majority of Pakistanis tend to think that mental health issues are connected to religion. As a result, people can become calmer, and some problems may be resolved through spirituality. However, it can be risky to rely solely on faith. Additionally, avoiding the subject and making up mental health problems contribute to its continued stigma.
Referring to mental illnesses as a curse or a result of not practicing religion
In Pakistan, people, especially the elderly, believe that the only source of mental disorders is a person’s disconnection from religion. Hence mental health disorders are rarely discussed. Moreover, people are prevented from receiving essential medical attention for mental health concerns because they believe daily prayers and altering their religious regimen may completely resolve mental diseases.
Mental illnesses are classified as paranormal or supernatural
When attempting to explain psychological distress with ghosts and demons, witchcraft, and divine punishment, people are more likely to turn to metaphysical therapies. Traditional healers and spiritual leaders who perform rites, ceremonies, and exorcisms have long been trusted by the populace. However, psychotherapy and psychiatric interventions with a scientific basis are significantly less widespread in many parts of the world.
A luxury is regarded to be a mental health treatment.
Mental health is considered a luxury, another reason why mental health is taboo in Pakistan. You hear folks discussing ailments like diabetes and high blood pressure. However, people frequently avoid discussing mental health issues because they believe we should not discuss things we cannot afford: prejudice and exclusion. In Pakistan, there is a lot of prejudice and discrimination. People have treated people differently based on race, colour, gender, and health. Words like “Pagal” (crazy) and “Nafsiyati” (mentally challenged) are frequently used as slurs to describe people, which makes people afraid to discuss their mental health problems.
Stigma in Society
In our society, there are many social stigmas that not only harm people’s mental health but also make it more taboo. For instance, divorce carries many stigmas in Pakistan. When a couple decides to split up, there will be much criticism. The problem is worse for women because they worry their friends and family will reject them if they file for divorce. In addition, it is more difficult for some women to seek separation because of their financial dependence. Many unhappy couples are constrained by this, which harms their mental health.
Social stigmatization hurts not only adults but also contributes to Pakistan’s continued ban on discussing children’s mental health. The majority of schools lack mental health counsellors, and school staff members are careless when it comes to problems like bullying. In Pakistan, comments like “why are you crying like a child” and “man up” are frequently heard, which prevents kids and teenagers from discussing their mental health.
Stigmatized marital abuse
In Pakistan, couples are told that domestic violence is a family issue and that they should keep it to themselves. The glamorization of women’s compromise, especially on physical and psychological abuse, contributes to Pakistan’s continued taboo status regarding mental health. Constant abuse can lead to the onset of PTSD and despair, increasing the risk of substance abuse and suicide in both men and women.
Inadequate sex education
In Pakistan, where sex education is stigmatized, it is thought that including it in the curriculum will make children less ashamed of themselves. Young people acquire their ideas about sex and reproduction through other, incorrect means due to the lack of sex education in schools and the widespread prohibition of the discussion of sexual and reproductive health. Young brains get insecure about their bodies, skills, and wants due to a lack of knowledge about scientific truths and acceptance of online information. This leads to mental health issues. The stigma of discussing sexual health in Pakistan prevents people from discussing the associated mental health issues.
How to change Pakistan for the better in the future
In recent years, there has been some improvement in Pakistanis’ understanding of mental health, but there is still much work to be done. Most Pakistanis must fulfil their duties and band together to eradicate taboos to ensure their citizens have improved mental health.
Pakistanis must understand that the government can repair only some things. We have learned from our national leaders, particularly Allama Iqbal, that we should not wait impatiently for the government to solve our concerns. Instead, our collaborative efforts can help us reduce the stigma associated with mental health in Pakistan. The most crucial first step in eradicating any taboo is to discuss it. Telling people about your struggles will help because it will inspire others to share their experiences. Speaking your mind and feeling what you feel aloud can be intimidating, but speaking your mind and feeling what you think is more of a talent that can be learnt and cultivated than a personality attribute. Sharing about your mental health may make you feel exposed, but there’s also a chance it can give you a sense of freedom. It’s also crucial to respect and sympathize with someone going through a difficult time. It would be best if you refrained from addressing anyone’s condition insensitively. For the elderly to contribute to removing the stigma surrounding mental health diseases, it is essential to educate them about these issues calmly and clearly. societal roles
In addition to individual duties, numerous issues must be addressed on a larger scale in Pakistan to end the stigma around mental health. Government initiatives and educational reforms may fall under this category. For the administration to implement reforms, starting conversations and breaking taboos is crucial. For example, how we handled the coronavirus pandemic has lessons for us. First, the coronavirus was unknown to everyone in the world. Still, the sickness was controlled by promoting conversation, creating awareness campaigns, and forcing people to hear about it again via caller tune messages.
Similarly, we can spread the word through electronic media or the entertainment industry. This will increase public awareness of mental health issues and make it simpler for those affected to get care. Furthermore, changing the curriculum and emphasizing mental illnesses and coping mechanisms in education may be beneficial. In addition, by harnessing their audiences and raising awareness, NGOs and healthcare groups may help spread the message.