As we at the British Asian Trust are working towards developing a mental health programme here in Pakistan, there has been a lot of focus on the word ‘stigma’ and how to remove it by creating more awareness. My view of the word stigma has also somewhat changed - I have found that it is less to do with acceptance that there are mental health issues and how this can affect one, but more to do with the lack of understanding of how to deal with a mental health issue, where to go for help and how to support others who may be suffering. It is the helplessness felt when confronted with issues that one feels cannot be overcome. This lack of information or understanding leads to silence and avoiding conversations about a topic we are somehow ‘so aware of being so unaware of’.
How do we tackle this problem? By initiating conversation — between health professionals, work place colleagues, at schools between peers and teachers, as well as families and friends.
We should aim at somehow normalising the existence of such issues so people feel more comfortable talking about them and seeking help. In order to find commonalities and support one another, we need to speak up and listen!
In a country such as Pakistan, where there is a huge disparity between the demand for and the supply of mental health services, it becomes even easier to become negligent and silent about these issues, pretending they do not exist — or when they do, trying to hide and cover them up. The British Asian Trust, in collaboration with our local partners, aims to facilitate conversations about mental health and teach individuals how to support others as well as themselves. Our ‘Muhala' meetings enable community members to come together, share experiences, find commonalities and actually give one another the hope and support they need. We also aim to make such mental health services accessible and affordable for all. We have introduced the concept of counselling and talking therapies to people who had never been offered or educated about the benefits of such therapies; people who are misled and over-medicalised as an immediate response to anything related to their health. We have helped to create a safe environment for vulnerable individuals to speak up about taboo subjects such as postnatal depression, domestic violence, substance abuse and many others. In order to create a sustainable system, where people acknowledge mental health and its effects, and understand that such issues are curable and can be managed through coping mechanisms, professional help, social support and lifestyle changes – we need to educate individuals and society and provide accurate information to them. For issues related to mental health, where stigma prevents people from coming forward and asking for support, we are helping to develop a system where services and help can go to them. Our community based mental health programme aims at eradicating stigma, talking openly about issues that exist, and providing the right care and treatment to those individuals who need it. After all – “there is not health without mental health”.
Sanaa Ahmad, Mental Health Manager (Pakistan), British Asian Trust.
All donations or Zakat given towards our mental health projects in Pakistan during our 2019 Ramadan appeal are being match funded by CareTech Foundation and COSARAF Charitable Foundation; doubling the impact of the money given.