In Pakistani society and others as regressive as ours, the ‘log-kya-kahein-gey’ syndrome remains one of the main reasons people continue to shy away from visiting professionals for mental health related issues. Unfortunately, what we fail to realise is that such attitudes are only worsening our people’s suffering.
This oft-repeated but still highly relevant message was conveyed by Ibadullah Shaikh, one of three speakers at a mental health awareness workshop, titled ‘Taskeen’, organised at the T2F on Wednesday evening.
The event is part of a collaborative effort initiated by the Pakistan Association for Mental Health, Humanity Initiative and CareForHealth. As Shaikh explained, the trio’s ‘Taskeen’ initiative aims at helping realign the misconstrued concepts regarding mental health in Pakistani society, and help foster an environment in which people can shrug off the social stigma attached to mental illnesses.
Shaikh, himself a survivor who now works as an advocate for physical and mental wellness, spoke of the need for stronger support networks, starting from families to the practical domain. “Anyone who tries to open up about a mental issue he or she may be facing has to bear through a barrage of skepticism and criticism,” he stated, “And, it is not just family members who tend to fail their loved ones; friends, colleagues and superiors can be equally apathetic in such situations.”
Speaking of the stigma attached to mental illnesses, Shaikh cited examples of known personalities – physicist Stephen Hawking, former Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram and Indian film actress Deepika Padukone – who rose up to face such challenges with inspirational courage.
“They all consulted professionals who helped them overcome their issues, unlike people in our society who would eventually die a slow death out of the fear of what others might have to say about their problems.”
However, for Shaikh, the road to successful rehabilitation for Pakistanis was made even tougher by the alarming dearth of mental health professionals in the country.
“There are only around 450 professionals catering to a population of over 20 million people. That is, simply put, an absurd ratio and leaves us thinking about what is really to blame here; those who don’t speak out about their mental health issues, or the appalling lack of mental health professionals in the country.”
Another speaker, Dr Taha Sabri, a medical school graduate, spoke about the factors causing mental illnesses, stating that biological, psychological and environmental factors were all equally important to this end.
“It is commonly believed that people with mental illness have a tendency to be violent. This assumption is as far from the truth as possible, as researches show that 90 percent of mental health patients are non-violent. In fact, studies show that most of them have actually been victims of violence in their lives.”
In her talk, psychologist Alizeh Valjee, founder of CareForHealth, focused on the power of attentive listening and how a compassionate attitude could ease their road to recovery.