Depression stigma

Published: November 22, 2016

LAHORE: This is with reference to the M Bilal Lakhani’s article, “My struggle with clinical depression” on November 17. I know of an immediate family member, an ex-Aitchisonian and a LUMS alumni, who is a success story academically but on the inside, is a whole other story. Despite his academic credentials, he found himself battling depression and anxiety for the last two decades. The young man is working towards overcoming his struggles. We all thought it was stress, so we urged him to distract himself by focusing on work and surrounding himself with people, which helped for a while. However, the nagging feeling did not go away. His breath was shallow, suffered from lack of concentration and broke down often. It was all downhill from this point. He felt a strange emptiness in his stomach.

The family member confessed he maintained a façade every time our relatives visited so as not to worry our other family members further. One day, he broke down in front of them, at which point we got in touch with a psychiatrist friend. My family member had a word with the psychiatrist and talked his heart out to him. He was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression. His psychiatrist suggested that he take medication as well as have sessions with a psychotherapist. The counseling helped but only to an extent. Since the last two decades he has been on medication and is relatively better.

Our ongoing battle with depression and anxiety has prompted us to spread awareness on the subject. There is shame and stigma attached to talking about depression publicly. In Pakistani society, there is little understanding of mental illness. Many Pakistanis think the symptoms have a supernatural or religious cause, possession by spirits or a curse or test from God. Some visit faith healers who promise to exorcise the offending spirits, or traditional healers selling herbal cures; others recite Quranic verses hoping their spiritual power can bring them physical and mental health. If those strategies do not work, they may consult a physician; only when that, too, has failed will they see a psychiatrist.

Salma Tahir

Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2016.

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