How the urban youth are tackling mental health

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When addressing mental health in Bangladesh, we’re no strangers to being labelled ‘mad’ or in the Bengali definition ‘pagol,’ when we acknowledge our depression or want to invest in therapy. Among the mentally ill, the youth form a significant number. While many suffer needlessly, others actively seek assistance to tackle their mental health issues and overcome them.   

According to Dr Tayabur Rahman, MBBS (Dhaka Medical College), BCS (Health), MD (Psychiatry) BSMMU, Psychiatrist, National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital (NIMH), “Mental illnesses stem from genetics, upbringing, schooling, parental authority, family dynamics and crises. It is further perpetuated by the decrease in social gatherings, internet, pornography, gaming addiction, and anxiety disorders, which in turn affect our mental health.”

The expert observes that the stigma is present more among urban populations and is only treated when a condition becomes more serious. During the COVID-19 crisis, Dr Tayabur saw a rise in estrangement between parents and their adult children.  

To further understand how the youth deal with depression and other mental health conditions, we learned from young people how they cope with their mental and emotional processes during such trying times.

For Joshua Edwards, 29, fitness was a priority; but when lockdowns were enforced, he was not doing well mentally.

“I usually exercise at the gym to keep my mind refreshed. But after we went into lockdown, everything was closed and I could not even get a job at that point. So, constantly being at home was mentally exhausting for me. It was also getting difficult as there would be disagreements with family as a result of everyone being equally frustrated from being stuck at home”.

Due to a lack of alternatives, he would go for a jog to relieve the pressure from his mind.

“Although I desperately felt like getting therapy, I didn’t know where to go. My sister asked me to book a therapy session with a mental health organisation once, but on the first consultation they accused me of being a substance user, which discouraged me from seeking help in the first place.”

Although his parents are aware of his issues, they would usually advise him to turn to faith to feel better. “Given the generation gap between our generation and our parent’s time, I don’t think they understand the need for seeking therapy the way we do, given that we have these conditions and want to sort them out.”

Moe’s, 28, mental health took a turn, especially when she felt concerned about her safety.

“Women are conditioned to be responsible for their safety. This can heighten anxiety when there is an added layer of concern for one’s safety.”

To keep her fears at bay and sanity in check, Moe scheduled video calls with her parents and friends. She also recalls times when she could not feel anything.

“I felt very numb to happiness or sorrow. It was not because something bad was happening; rather the monotony of the pandemic was sinking in,” she said. 

In addition to that, she also had trouble sleeping due to staying indoors for long hours.  On the side of physical exhaustion, excess screen time strained her vision as well. These, followed by a lack of motivation made her wonder if her life and youth were going to remain stagnant like this in Bangladesh.

She shares, “After seeking therapy, I have understood why I feel this way and can destigmatise it now. Connecting with people also helped me internalise that much of what’s on social media is not real. I can accept it now and because of this, I feel way more grateful for the things I have. I don’t take it for granted anymore that I can get out of the house and socialise with people.”  

As a homemaker, Maisha Mazher Khan, 33, addresses the need for mental health, especially when she’s raising toddlers and infant boys. 

Even when past experiences with therapy discouraged her to seek mental health services, she does however feel it is essential to get the help, irrespective of social taboos.

The pandemic did not impact Maisha as much because her family was close to her, but she did feel that there were certain hindrances in giving her children a normal life.

“We were home all the time and there was not enough scope for them to play or go out. They were always watching TV which negatively impacted their health too,” she said. 

From the looks of it, the mental health landscape is slowly but surely changing since social and medical initiatives are being taken to raise awareness. Although affordability remains a major concern among the youth, Dr Tayabur shares that government hospitals like NIMH, allow patients to consult with a mental health specialist by buying a ticket for Tk 10 only.

“I have also provided outdoor services myself and some of my junior colleagues are doing the same. They are not any different from the corporate services which are priced between Tk 2000-5000.”

Furthermore, hospitals like BSMMU and Dhaka Medical College’s psychiatry department are also open for consultations. Apart from hospitals, there are some online platforms such as Psycure Organization, Telepsychiatry Research and Innovation Network (TRIN), Moner Bondhu, and others accessible for services on Facebook, which are also reasonably priced.

“We are going through a continuous process and hopefully in a few years we will see some positive changes,” concludes the expert.  

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