Mental Health of the People of Afghanistan in an Unequal World
14 October 2021
Saher Ashiq Ali
The theme revealed by WFMH President Dr Ingrid Daniels for World Mental Health Day this year is “Mental Health in an Unequal World.” The inequality with regards to mental health is mostly recognised in terms of having a lack of access to and awareness about mental health care. However, this article focuses on the other side of the coin. Inequity in mental health also means the existence of differences in the intensity, experiences and understanding of mental health problems along the sexuality, religious, class, ethnicity, racial and nationality lines. For the sake of simplicity, I will elaborate on the above notion using the dimension of nationality.
Afghanistan had been under the war situation for about 21 years. Far from improving, the condition continues to worsen considering the ongoing clashes between ISIS and the Taliban government. About 241,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan and Pakistan war zone since 2001. As of December 31, 2020, about 3,547,000 Afghan people have been internally displaced and Afghans make one of the largest refugee populations worldwide.
The people of Afghanistan, particularly vulnerable groups, are paying a heavy price for being born in a country that has been strategically important for local, regional and global powers. One such cost is encountering psychological trauma because of being exposed to extreme economic and social hardships caused by the violence and collapse of functional systems such as public health, security, and infrastructure due to the war.
For those who have managed to escape from the recent crises in Afghanistan, their struggles are also far from being over. They are back in limbo. While the UK government has announced plans to relocate Afghans through Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), it has not yet reached an operational stage. Paradoxically, the recent Home Office guidelines have declared that Afghanistan no longer presents a ‘real risk of harm’, suggesting that the vulnerable Afghan refugees would have to face disappointment again for expecting protection from the ‘western countries’ against the inhumane Taliban regime. Moreover, considering that the Afghan passport is ranked the weakest passport in the world, it limits the option for Afghan people to seek refuge in.
It has been 21 years, but the people of Afghanistan are still denied respite from the ongoing mistreatment. They have gone through a perilous journey for what? To be sent back to a danger zone that they so desperately were trying to escape that they did not even care about their life. The mental exhaustion that they have had to experience since the past two decades reflects how the nationality drives the disparity with respect to how mental health problems get developed, aggravated and experienced.
There are numerous services which provide mental health support to refugees in the UK. To name a few, the Santé Project runs a Befriending service to help refugees access services, gain confidence, and learn about British culture. The Helen Bamber Foundation provides numerous forms of treatment to those who have endured trauma, forced displacement, trafficking, and violence. Freedom from Torture support people coming to terms with their experiences of torture and mental health problems it can cause such as PTSD or depression.
On this World Mental Health Day, we all should come together and raise our voices against the continuous abuse of the people of Afghanistan. We must recognise and expose this insensitivity towards the perilous conditions of the people of Afghanistan, including Afghan refugees. Without the growing support of the people like us, the government could not be encouraged enough to introduce policies that could allow Afghan refugees to breathe a sigh of relief from the ongoing injustice.