My biological father passed away when I was quite young. My life was tied to tragedy early in my childhood. Except, the familial bond my mother’s family had formed through me never allowed me to sense what I had really endured at an early age thus allowing my positive character to persevere. Except, it didn’t. When it came to facing adversity, and getting past tough times, I had a formula to survive. I had been surviving and continuing forward for most of my life but when it came time to rest, I didn’t know how. Heartbreaks, small friendship circles eventually reduced to nothing and finally what I had thought was a little bit of love from a boy but actually something much more, like an actual chance at happiness was what sent me over the edge. I never exactly figured out what broke me but that’s what I felt, broken. I had an extremely tough time over the course of two years. But then came the days I didn’t want to leave my bed’s side.
My depression held me prisoner as my thoughts circled in my head. I found myself praying while crying on my bathroom floor at midnight. I didn’t even know why I was crying. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with my mind and I hated myself more and more every day for feeling the way I did. I didn’t know my mental health was damaged, severed, broken. I didn’t know because even when I use to tell my parents that I had a headache, the response I got was “You’re young, you don’t get headaches”. When simple health problems were dismissed, my teenage mind didn’t realize that mental health was a thing. I come from a Pakistani family. My mother came here from Pakistan carrying her Pakistani values to the best of her abilities while gradually keeping an open mind as she assimilated to American culture while raising me. December of 2015, I tried to tell my mother about my depression and the empty, lost feeling haunting me every day. She told me to just get past it and stay positive. Her reaction left me even more hopeless.
Today, I don’t blame her for her reaction. Mental health isn’t something that is actively talked about in countries like Pakistan. There is a stigma of shame, silence and negativity attached to mental health issues in Pakistani culture. When a person is feeling down, people tell them to get over it or simply to pray. People suffering are merely ashamed while being shamed with questions about the respect of their family which are used to emotionally oppress their mental health issues. I didn’t know what I was even suffering from and the idea of going through depression was something I didn’t think I could have.
“People in Pakistan don’t face the same issues as people in the West. Nearly everybody in the United States has a shrink because they don’t have anybody else to help them resolve their problems”. A quote from Pakistan Today’s columnist Nadia Khawaja’s article reaffirmed the stereotypes attached to mental health that even I, personally, use to think when it came to my own mental health issues. My mother told me mood swings were a product of me mimicking my American friends & that I had to stay positive.
Subsequently, silence is used to govern mental health issues in Pakistan. People associated with mental health problems are deemed to display violent signs, look different from others & deemed lost causes with nothing to add to society (Hussain 2015). Depression, anxiety and more mild forms of mental health problems aren’t understood or treated properly. People that try and talk about it are judged, ridiculed or dismissed. People suffering from these problems don’t have the tools to recognize it properly for themselves (Dawn 2016). And the people they are surrounded by aren’t willingly ready to open their minds, put their preconceived theories attached to mental health and resort to help. Preconceived notions attached to mental health in Pakistan are the number one obstacle holding Pakistan & Pakistani’s back from addressing mental health problems thus prolonging the healing of those currently suffering.