Let's all be real, we all have heard this sentence more than once in our life either from our mothers, from a ‘concerned’ family member, or just people in general. When it comes to mental health “log kya kahenge” is the biggest fear most Pakistani people face whenever they talk about or seek help for mental illnesses of all sorts. People tend to use the words “pagal” and “drameybaz” to describe people who seek help for their mental wellbeing. This type of response not only ridicules those with mental illnesses but also demotivates them from getting help.
The level of disregard our society, in general, has for mental health is ironic given the gruesome aftereffects of declining mental health we face as a society. According to WHO between 15 to 35 people end their lives each day in Pakistan, yet there are only 400 psychiatrists and 5 psychiatric hospitals across the country. Mental health conditions are often not taken seriously. For example, OCD is generally regarded to be overthinking or just being “organized” rather than being a serious problem some people deal with every day. This lack of awareness and ignorance about the importance of ensuring the mental health of the people is compounded by a severe mental health stigma that prevails in our society.
One of the prevalent and agonizing forms of stigmatization in Pakistani culture is the belief that people who are facing some sort of mental illness, especially in the cases of anxiety and depression, are not religious enough and are constantly told to “pray more” or “be more thankful”. This type of stigmatization is also in line with religious shaming and can cause people to spiral further.
Moreover, and weirdly enough, some forms of mental health issues are not even acknowledged as problems or struggles, they are considered absolutely normal instead. For example, a woman who cries a lot is said to be ‘emotional’ rather than be facing depression or another form of mental illness. In the same vein, men who have anger issues to the point that they can be violent are completely ignored because it is seen as usual masculine behavior. Here, I feel it is important to note that this absurd idea of masculinity is not only detrimental to the person themselves but also to the people around them as is evident from the trend of domestic abuse in our country.
BUT THERE IS STILL HOPE. Things are changing.
We are beginning to notice more awareness and acceptance for different mental health conditions, and finding help is normalizing gradually. This ensures a more positive future in terms of the mental health of our people. It also indicates that we, as a community, are starting to realize that “log kya kahenge” is absolutely pointless. People may have their opinions on every matter, even matters that they might never understand or face themselves, but what is important is our personal and collective well-being.
Moreover, with increasing mental health awareness, there are now more opportunities for therapy. More people are willing to go into psychiatry as a profession. People struggling with mental health are beginning to meet growing acceptance and encouragement for pursuing therapy and seeking help. Also, and most importantly, this improving atmosphere for mental health is allowing more people to accept themselves and their struggles, which can be as little as stress or as worse as anxiety and panic attacks. It is helping individuals to learn to care for themselves, take breaks when needed, and avoid damaging their self-worth by getting caught up in the whorl of comparing themselves with others.
So, the most important thing to understand here is that do not be afraid of what society will think or say about you because what matters the most is your well-being. People will continue to have opinions and will comment even on the matters they might have the least knowledge about. But you must do all that is needed to take care of your peace and mental health to make sure your mind is not a warpath.