Thursday, 16 May 2024 15:32

Afghan Women Struggle with Soaring Mental Health Issues

Since the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan in 2021, numerous women grapple with profound mental health challenges, often in silence, fearing repercussions for speaking out. Credit: Learning Together

May 16 (IPS) — The author is an Afghanistan-based female journalist, trained with Finnish support before the Taliban take-over. Her identity is withheld for security reasonsAfghanistan is grappling with a growing crisis of mental illness, particularly among its women, as highlighted in a United Nations report. Officials from the mental health department at Herat regional hospital have observed a concerning uptick in the number of women afflicted by psychological disorders in the province.

According to these officials, nearly eighty percent of individuals seeking treatment for depression are women and girls. The medical center witnesses a daily influx of one hundred patients seeking assistance.

"Every day, 100 people come for treatment, and more than two-thirds of them are women”, according to one of the doctors of the Association of Clinical Psychologists in Herat, who did not want to be named in the report due to security issues.

Nearly 400 people have been sent to further treatment within one month and the numbers continue to increase daily. Most patients are given psychological counseling but those with severe illness are referred to the regional mental hospital in Herat.

Several factors contribute to the surge in mental illness among women. Economic hardships have intensified, while the oppressive rule of the Taliban has cast a shadow over their future prospects. Additionally, a widespread increase in domestic violence against women, coupled with restrictions on female education and employment, compounds the issue.

"I often experience sudden panic attacks," shared Marjan, a patient at the hospital. "My heart feels weak, and I constantly battle lethargy. The ban on my education has plunged me into depression," she lamented.

With tears in her eyes and pain in her voice, she complained how long she and other women would continue to be imprisoned within the four walls of their homes and live with uncertainty of the future.

Marjan continues, "I am the third wife of my husband, and I am always subjected to violence and beatings by my husband or my husband’s wives."

In some regions, such as Herat, polygamous marriages are common, leading to intra-family conflicts where women bear the brunt of the repercussions.

Marjan, a victim of such a marriage, disclosed her failed suicide attempts and attributed her plight to the Taliban. Forced into marriage by her father during the Taliban regime, she was compelled to relinquish her role as a civil activist and former employee of a human rights organization under the previous government.

"Now, I am left with mere memories of a life that no longer exists," she lamented bitterly.

Nafas Gul, a mother of five also in Herat Province narrates her story. Her daughter, sixteen-year-old Shirin Gul, is severely depressed, judging from her regular cries and calling her home prison, her mother explains. Shirin no longer attends school.

Memories have made most girls and women depressed. A large number of them have stayed at home, unable to work or acquire education.

In Afghanistan, many victims of domestic violence struggle to find assistance in overstretched healthcare systems. Credit: Learning Together
In Afghanistan, many victims of domestic violence struggle to find assistance in overstretched healthcare systems. Credit: Learning Together

With the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2021, women have been deprived of their rights, especially the right to work and education. The majority of women in Herat are against recognizing the legitimacy of the Taliban government, rather they say that recognition should be given in return for improving the status of women.

Doctors caution that without intervention, the number of individuals suffering from depression, particularly in Herat province, will continue to escalate.