Unlocking Breakthroughs: The Power of Critical Distance

Pakistan is facing an escalating mental health crisis, where mental disorders account for more than 4% of the overall health burden, significantly impacting women. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), Pakistan has only 0.19 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants, which is among the lowest figures in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region and globally. Many unable to access necessary support due to prevailing stigma, lack of awareness, and limited services. In response to this critical need, we aim to build psychological care in our program not just to support women in need but also to catalyze a grassroots transformation in the mental health landscape.

Shakeela Mukhtiar, Rural Facilitator, Dera Ghazi Khan share women’s multidimensional experiences of healthcare and poverty:

“In Dera Ghazi Khan, women require both physical and psychological care, particularly in rural areas where they face challenges with deteriorating physical health during pregnancy and labor. There is a dearth of facilities and a lack of awareness regarding the importance of prenatal care for women’s health. Women bear significant responsibilities, including childbirth, child care, household management, cooking, cleaning, and growing their enterprises. The unspoken stress of managing numerous responsibilities amidst the challenges of multidimensional poverty silently weighs on the minds of women. In some instances, women may experience feelings of being overwhelmed, leading to depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, due to a lack of awareness, the community responds to these behavioral changes with remedies rooted in faith and superstition. Often symptoms of vomiting, pain in the womb, insomnia, headaches and back-pain, and poor memory are associated with spirit possession where women are taken to Spiritual Hearlers to exorcise evil spirits through dum (incantations), durood (recitation of the Quran) and Taweez (written prayers). Very few families seek help from medical experts in such situations. There is a need to cultivate sensitivity among men regarding healthcare matters.”

By integrating SDG 5: Gender Equality and SDG 3: Good Health & Well-Being, Kaarvan has created a coalition with relevant institutions such as British Asian Trust, Target Foundation, UN Women Pakistan, LUMS, UMT and BIDs Belgium – we prioritize mapping out meaningful connection and using language that deeply resonates with the human experience.

Theoverarching objective is wellness. Wellness is not merely a state of mind or a passive condition; rather, it is a state of action. It entails actively engaging in behaviors, practices, and choices that promote physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Meesal Beeshan, Artisan-Entrepreneur, Lahore, share her experience of how cultural perceptions associate “mental” and “crazy” concurrently showcases lack of mental health education and need to dispel misconceptions and promote acceptance and support.

“As my business grows, I aspire to advocate for mental health awareness within my community. Even here in the city of Lahore, there is a significant lack of understanding about mental health, with many mistakenly associating it with madness. Particularly, women often refrain from discussing their psychological struggles out of fear of being labeled as mentally unstable. Instead, women internalize their emotions and endure domestic violence, finding solace in food and prioritizing their children’s education over seeking help.

We need cultivate culture of empathy and understanding, where mental health is not stigmatized but rather openly discussed. Unlike physical illnesses like cancer, mental health is seen as irreconcilable disorder. We must work towards breaking down barriers, promoting open dialogue, and providing support for those grappling with mental health challenges in our community.”

Mental health, trauma and violence are integrally linked. Hurt people, hurt people. Violence often leads to trauma, and unaddressed trauma can exacerbate division, lead to more violence, and compromise feelings of security.

Understanding the interconnectedness of emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects provides insight into the impacts of various phenomena, including feelings of insecurity, loss of cultural identity, racism, polarization, climate inaction, and overall violence.

Moving beyond mere awareness and delving into the realm of addressing current, transgenerational, and historical trauma unlocks the potential to heal wounds and facilitate transformation at the individual, community, and societal levels.

Reading References

  1. Bruce D. Perry & Oprah Winfrey’s ‘What Happened To You?’ –
  2. Valarie Kaur’s ‘See No Stranger’ –
  3. Julie Smith’s ‘Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?’ –
  4. Emily Nagoski PhD & Amelia Nagoski DMA’s ‘Burnout’ –
  5. Carolyn E. Yoder’s ‘Trauma Healing’ –