The Depression Rhetoric amongst Pakistani Women

Today I came across an article in Dawn, which listed an alarming statistic i.e.: 34% people in Pakistan are fighting depression as opposed to the world average which is 20%. The Pakistan Medical Association has highlighted depression as the theme for this year’s World Health Day.

I have more of a personal interest in mental healthcare – especially depression – and because I identify as a Pakistani woman, this was even more important to me (It’s higher in women than men). As I don’t live there, I don’t know how much awareness is present in the current scenario – but if what I read is to be believed, there seems to be a growing understanding – atleast amongst the younger generation.

I feel cultural norms have a big part to play in the lack of education – or even the seriousness of the issue. The article mentioned its greater in urban areas, although I feel they would still be equipped to know what it means and have access to treatment, than those who are living in villages.

However, its reception by the masses – especially people who are in their mid 30s and so on are remarkably subdued. Some don’t even know what the term means and don’t even know they are suffering from it. Some think it’s just “extra sadness” (I’d be surprised if you can’t hear me scoff as I type at the cavalier attitude this gets). Some have ingrained it in their system as completely normal – “ye toh hota hi rehta hai” (this happens all the time) – I mean, what? How is this normal? When did we convince ourselves that life was supposed to render you miserable as you grow older?

If I ever bring this up, I’m faced with “jab tum bari hogi toh tumhe pata chalega” (when you grow up, you’ll come to know) but I don’t want to know. I don’t want to live this rhetoric. I don’t want my life to become a chore after the “first few years of marriage”, when “the honeymoon period will end and the real life will begin”. I don’t want to feel a void in my heart from the constant pain of disappointment from the very people who are supposed to be the pillars of my life – my family. Yes, we’re responsible for our own happiness – but that doesn’t excuse anyone’s treatment towards you. Part of being responsible of our own happiness means removing people from your life that are the root cause of your steadily declining happiness/self-esteem. Unfortunately, it’s not always as straightforward as that because the dark cloud hanging over everyone’s head seems to be what society is going to think.

I won’t rant about society right now, but what I can say is that change begins with me, with you. I acknowledge I’m not in the position that others’ are in, and perhaps if you reading this think I know nothing about your life, you’re right – I don’t. But you don’t need to know me personally to know that I know enough about it that I would never take it lightly. I know domestic troopers who are in horrific (mental) conditions that are trying so hard to keep some semblance of normality in their lives.

Speak. I know it feels like a risk because some people delegitimize your experience. And it’s a monumental effort to ask for help. If you take steps to change your life, you’ll also impact others’ who could be inspired to change for better. You can impact your children who will learn that it’s not normal to tolerate emotional abuse from anyone. You can break the cycle. And you will be okay. We don’t take shit from strangers, so why are we okay with letting family get away with it?

How many scars do we justify, just because we love the person holding the knife?

Morosely yours,
– N


*Header artwork can be found here.


6 thoughts on “The Depression Rhetoric amongst Pakistani Women

  1. I really feel like depression and mental health in general is not acknowledged by most Pakistanis. As per usual, it is swept under the rug. Amazing post x


  2. And we can extend this post to Indians, too! Although I realize I might also be a part of the problem. What is the threshold for depression? Sometimes I have days where all I do is want to cry. But is that depression or me just being overwhelmed. A friend recent posed if I might be depressed, and I immediately denied that was the case. Because alh, my life is pretty good, you know? And I think it’s a problem that affects a lot of Muslims, because it’s seen as weakness of faith, which is hard to argue against.


  3. “When did we convince ourselves that life was supposed to render you miserable as you grow older?”

    Indeed. The thing with family is that they’re the people you get to be close to without trying. They’ve always been there and you’ve formed bonds with them. Thus, if a time comes when you realize that they’re keeping you from growing as a person, you’re scared it’s too late to find a new family. Because for some, connecting with people is extremely difficult.

    As for depression and mental illness, it disturbs me how much the Muslim community dismisses it. The more people gain the strength to talk about depression, the more Muslims blame it on their iman or their lack of thankfulness. As per your comic, that is certainly the problem. But the more I see people in younger generations that are willing to talk about it, the more I think that we can hopefully build communities where it’s no longer such a taboo. As you say in your post, the change begins with us.


  4. Depression is not identified as a serious subject. I suspected that one of my cousin was going through it and everyone in family was really worried so I suggested to my mom to take to see a psychiatrist. Her mom took her to her peer instead. And surprisingly the person most against going to a psychiatrist wasn’t the parents it was my 20 year old cousin. People in Pakistan don’t get the fact that being mentally ill has nothing to do with yourself. They just blame it on the person who is already suffering too much. (Btw the solution to my cousin’s problem was she got married. )


  5. You are completely right. I married a pakistani and have lived in Lahore on and off for six years. From my experience Depression doesn’t get diagnosed here. Its either “don’t think so much” or “its black magic”. There is no support for women who have just given birth, that so often suffer from post natal depression. Going to a psychologist is unheard of and is hugely stigmatized.

    Liked by 1 person

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