“Tum psychiatrist ke paas ja kar kya karo gai, tum pagal thori na hou.”

A phrase too often heard in our society which comes in all shapes and varieties but at the same time, it conveys the same message. If you go to a psychiatrist or psychologist you’re considered to be crazy or, in more local terms, “pagal”. Because, of course, if you’re going to a psychiatrist, you must be absolutely out of your mind. Unfortunately, we live in a society where people think that mental health illnesses are just hocus pocus or yet another “Yahoodi Saazish” aimed to corrupt the minds of our youth. There is a severe lack of awareness in mental health issues because of the toxicly judgemental state of our society and our own reluctance to seek help in these matters because of the ages old dilemma that “loug kya kahain ge”.

You’ll be surprised to learn that out of the 182 million people in Pakistan, 37 percent suffer from depression and other mental health issues. Even more surprising is the fact that there are only 400 active psychiatrists currently working in Pakistan. That’s around 1 psychiatrist for 168,000 people who need psychiatrists as much as a diabetic person needs a diabetologist. How did we reach such a point of self-enforced ignorance to such an important issue?

Firstly, the overwhelmingly vast majority of our population thinks that depression, anxiety disorder and hyperactivity disorder etc are just exaggerations by people craving nothing but attention and that there’s nothing actually wrong with them. From their limited perspective, mental health issues only exist in fiction and they genuinely believe that unlike real physical health problems, they do not actually exist. For them, mental health issues can easily be resolved by their expert opinion, which sounds like this most of the time:
“Have you tried just being happy?”
“You have to at least make an effort.”
“These medications change who you really are.”
“If you had followed Islam’s teachings closely, this would never have happened.”

That is some of the genius pieces of advice imparted to patients suffering from these diseases. I’m no genius but putting this into context, that’s exactly like telling a person who’s just been stabbed to make an effort to stop bleeding to their death, its like telling a diabetic that injecting insulin is changing who they really are or telling a person with a flu to make an effort to stop it.

The real problem, however, lies in the very fact that they do not realize this because of how society has perverted their mindframes. Another cause of these stigmas to form are the greedy nature of most of the psychiatrists that do actually exist. Most of them will just get you hooked up on antidepressants or antipsychotics and will thoroughly advise you to keep coming to them for the rest of your life simply because, they’re really that desperate for customers to earn from.

Secondly, our society thinks that there are two types of people in this world. Those who are crazy and those who are not. If you go to a psychiatrist, you fall into the former and if you don’t, depression, anxiety disorder, hyperactivity disorder, anorexia nervosa etc can and should be, under any circumstances, overcome by sheer willpower because they aren’t really diseases and all we need to do is to stay happy. This twists the mindset of the individual suffering from these diseases and leads to their future generation having the very same problems. The number of people suffering from these diseases will keep on increasing as this cycle of ignorance continues. Even the people suffering from these diseases share these ghastly views and are afraid to even admit to themselves that they have a mental health disorder, let alone tell someone else about it.

What needs to be done is that we realize that we have to educate ourselves before passing any kind of judgement, we have to realize that mental health diseases are as big and real as any physical disease and require proper care and medication. Then, we need to accept these diseases for what they really are instead of what we’ve been taught to believe over decades of ignorance and even, if we can’t really understand the toil of these people, we need to be more supportive and accepting of their problems. We have to work towards removing this predominantly judgemental and taboo concept of mental health disorders in Pakistan.

Lastly, the victims of these diseases need to accept themselves for who they really are and should not be, under any circumstances, afraid to seek help for a disease that exists. It’s okay to have weaknesses and faults. We cannot be perfect simply because we’re humans and humans were never meant to be perfect. So, I urge anyone with a friend or a relative suffering from these diseases to encourage them to seek help as we, being a responsible society, play as big a part as any psychiatrist into helping these people.

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