Mental health is integral to living a healthy, balanced life. Our mental health encompasses our psychological, emotional and social well-being. This means it impacts how we feel, think and behave each day. Yet, sadly, there is a very small proportion of people who seek mental health treatment if they find themselves suffering from it. This is mostly because it is still stigmatised in many communities especially the underprivileged ones, where access to treatment is next to impossible. Many people in such areas are brainwashed by pirs or elders where they try unethical and baseless practices to ‘cure’ their illnesses.
Fortunately, Bunyad Foundation and Mind Organization have combined their efforts to provide psychiatric facilities free of cost in the city of Hafizabad. They have been conducting camps twice a month for the past nine years where they provide sessions, diagnosis, medication, and intervention plans free of cost.
I had the opportunity to accompany a team of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists to their recent camp visit in Hafizabad. During this difficult time of a pandemic, I didn’t expect a lot of good but I wasn’t prepared to witness the worst cases of suffering and pain during that camp. My role was just to accompany them but when I reached the site, I couldn’t stop myself from approaching patients – while keeping in mind the Covid-19 SOPs. Apart from suffering from mental illnesses, people were also fighting inhumanity, starvation, and hopelessness, which was evident from their faces.
I gathered myself and started conversing with Abida who was around 25-30 years old and had three children. She broke into tears when I asked her about her health. Abida had been diagnosed with depression while her husband had died just after the birth of their youngest daughter. She used to sell small things like hair clips, chips, toffees, and biscuits, etc. in a market. Due to lockdown, her only source of income was destroyed. Her depression was under control through medication but she had a relapse due to the onslaught of the pandemic. She had nothing to provide to her kids and her entire family slept on the sidewalk since she was unable to pay rent of her home.
Next, I spoke with a man named Rehmat Ali. He had epilepsy and one of his sons had the symptoms of Covid-19. Moreover, the lockdown escalated the anxiety and depression, and his entire family suffered the consequences. The stress caused by it triggered Rehmat’s epileptic attacks as well.
Rehmat Ali and Abida were just few of the many cases that we saw. Apart from these two, there were a range of mental illness cases from anxiety to schizophrenia. Besides mental health issues, the population of this small city also suffered from consequences of the lockdown. During my time at the camp, I tried to help them find solutions to their problems but I could only counsel them. I realised that if such organisations did not exist and set up camps like these, there would be no one to listen to their heart-breaking stories.
Almost everywhere in the world, mental health is a taboo. Affected people are said to be victims of witchcraft or possessed by evil spirits. Sometimes, society blames the patients themselves for their condition. In Hafizabad, I came to know about the horrifying setup that used to drain the blood from the skulls of schizophrenic patients assuming that this would cure the disease. Afshan Shafi, Assistant Project Lead at Mindcamp (Bunyad) talked to the scribe about the patients at the camps, “There are many barbaric practices and ancient myths associated with mental illnesses that these mentally frail individuals have to suffer through. We need to collectively realise as a country that this treatment of psychologically challenged people amounts to violations against basic human rights.” Moreover, keeping in mind the current scenario, the organisation plans to have more such camps here.
Just like the coronavirus threat, mental illnesses are real. People don’t accept depression as a clinical condition that should be treated with medication and intervention plans. Instead, we witness malpractices due to the lack of awareness. It is worth noting the work these organisations are doing to spread awareness about mental health and the treatment of mental illnesses. It’s the responsibility of every Pakistani to support such organisations in this noble cause; especially in the current time where people are succumbing to anxiety and depression.