We should not shy away from talking about mental health issues
Is it safe to say that all of us in this society are just a little crazy?
I don’t mind. I take full acceptance of the fact that I maybe am a few cards short of a full deck and perhaps, secretly, you are too.
In light of recent events -- the loss of the lives of two young students by their own hands -- a conversation about mental health in Bangladesh has become necessary.
Whenever I see the news, I am struck by this notion more and more severely. Read the following and tell me if you aren’t as well: 1) a student kills herself over her HSC exam results, 2) two lovers, unable to be together, drown themselves in a lake, and 3) a mother kills two children due to anxiety over their future.
All of those are immediately identifiable to any reader of the news, but what really bothers me is that a lot of these horrors which greet us every morning over breakfast may have been preventable with the right mental health care treatment and the proper support.
According to a report by icddr,b, the prevalence of mental health issues amongst adults in the Bangladeshi population is between 6.5% and 31%. In children, it is almost as bad -- sources indicate that the number is between 10%-20%.
This is alarming: Almost one in three people that you meet every day may be battling inner demons that you know nothing about. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, neuroses, as well as a whole host of other diseases are prevalent throughout our society and receive almost no attention at all.
With the sheer amount of violence that goes on in our little corner of the world, it is a wonder that we all don’t suffer from PTSD.
The ‘pagol’ brush
There persists a deep and eternal stigma, because no one wants to be tainted with the “pagol” brush. No one wants it to be known, in this “utopian” society that we live in, that they need help, that they are having difficulties, and that they are having trouble coping with the insufferable pressures that modern existence forces upon us.
For those reading, whatever your age group, whether you are a young student terrified of giving the first of many exams that “shape your future” or a middle-aged man juggling the pressures of work and family: It is OK for you to get help.
For Bangladesh to thrive as a society, especially a society in which one would also like to thrive, we must treat this issue with seriousness. All of us are under enormous pressure from each other.
The pressure to succeed in school and work, the pressure to find a suitable romantic partner, the pressure to live up to your parents, the expectations of in-laws, and the societal pressure to conform yet be independent at the same time, are enormous, and we must all acknowledge that and strive to create a more nurturing and civilized society for all.
With the added lens of social media, all of us are stressed to put on the façade of a perfect life, to show people who don’t really care all that much about us how much we are #winning.
We must move away from the “winner take all” mentality that governs us, and work to create a more cohesive society for everyone.
We are all, in one way or another, as humans living on this planet, tumbling swiftly through the eternal void, susceptible to mental illness; pain, heartbreak, depression, anxiety, all of us, in one way or another, directly or not, temporarily or not, will be brushed by the mad touch of delirium.
Over the past several years, through the safety of a screen, like many of you, I have heard stories of talented people who, unable to find a way out of dire predicaments, had taken the final exit.
Last year, an incredibly talented musician killed himself because of heartbreak.
A young man I once met, who was beloved by many, took his own life because he was unable to achieve good grades and was, in his own eyes, bringing shame to his family.
Last week, a promising young student died because he was unable to bear living away from his parents and did not have anyone to turn to in a residential semester that he was forced to attend.
A few days ago, a young girl killed herself because, for one mistake, she saw her future disappearing in front of her eyes.
The debate online has been about blame -- who was really responsible?
The teachers and the administrators surely have some culpability in the matter but, increasingly, I find a large subset of people who are putting the blame on the victim.
Is that how low we have come? A poor girl died -- there is no need to drag her name through the dirt, saying that she was caught cheating and should face the consequences and the administration did their job rightly and fairly.
Who hasn’t cheated on a test, at least once in their life?
While I do not know the details of what happened, I can empathize with Aritry, because at that age, for all of us, exams and studies are matters of life or death. Her cheating in an exam, which she believed she had to pass, is completely understandable.
It is a tragedy that Aritry and all others like her will not be able to never get the chance to understand that.
Zubier Abdullah is an engineer and a short story writer.