Depression and suicide
He eased up. Asked me if we ever manage to save people. If mental illnesses are curable. If there's something to be done, and what do we do when medicine doesn't work?
By Naveed Abbas Maitlo
Last week when I was Ubering home, my driver asked me what field I wanted to specialize in. I am generally not the sort of person to enjoy small talk, so I curtly replied psychiatry and went back to my phone. Hesitant at disturbing me again, he apologized and asked if he could ask me a few questions about mental illness.
Feeling bad at making him hesitate, I put my phone aside, smiled at him and generally told him a little bit about how and why I like the field and why I wanted to enter it.
He eased up. Asked me if we ever manage to save people. If mental illnesses are curable. If there’s something to be done, and what do we do when medicine doesn’t work? His questions made me think and I answered honestly. Satisfied with my opinions, by and by he got confident enough to tell me the most heartbreaking story.
It turns out that his best friend and cousin was a doctor- well educated, well established. He was in his mid thirties and had recently been unable to find a good bride on account of some of his weirder personality traits. His family insisted that he settled down, took him to meet people constantly, got him engaged forcefully, then blamed him when the engagement fell apart. Due to the constant family pressure, he suffered a breakdown.
And immediately, instead of seeking medical advice, they carted him off to Fountain House, fearful of the stigma that was to be had if people found out as he had two married sisters whose family life would be disrupted if he turned out to have a mental illness. The first night he spent there, he got so agitated that he broke all fingers of both of his hands one by one trying to open the door and became completely non responsive over the next four days. Forced to take him home as the staff there did not know how to cope with him, they set him up in an apartment far off alone, and my driver was the only person who visited, everyone else had cut off contact. For a week or two, the man was able to survive, not going outside at all and hiding in corners at any sign of human life.
When my driver got back from a trip out of city the next week and went to check on him, it turned out he had hung himself five days ago. No one had even known. And when he tried to start an investigation by calling in his police friends, the family came and begged him to stick by the official story line that his cousin had died while cleaning the fan and he ‘fell’. Forced to let things rest by order of the family ‘elders’, to this day he carried the grief of failing his friend and asked if there was something more he could’ve done- apart from protesting and opposing his friend’s family the whole way and his daily visitations.
Needless to say, my heart broke for this person who had been forced to watch from the sidelines as his own family completely obliterated one of their own. Just for the sake of log kya kahain gay. A promising young life, left to rot unattended just because he had the misfortune of falling sick. And my driver? He will carry the guilt and grief without closure for the rest of his life.
This story is one of many I’ve witnessed throughout my life and I’m never prepared for just how low ignorance and self preservation go. This is not an isolated incident. And the only thing I can do, is talk about it for as long as I can, to as many people as I can. So can you. This mental health awareness day, talk to people. Talk to your friends, talk to your families. Tell them it’s okay if they are struggling. Tell them it’s okay if they need to talk. Tell them it’s okay not to be okay. Just the tiniest bit of understanding and a few moments of your time can save a life.
The writer is Sharia and Law student at International Islamic University, Islamabad