LAHORE: The month has been marked with a string of suicides beginning with popular fashion designer Kate Spade followed by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The final nail in the coffin was the suicide by a Frenchman in the vicinity of the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia, considered as one of the holiest places on Earth. The unfortunate incidents have given rise to several questions pertaining to depression, particularly among young people and students.
While some blame the society and the pressure of education, others claim that depression is merely a mental construct and not a mental illness. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 800,000 people die of suicide every year.
Pakistan Today spoke to some psychiatrists and psychologists to gain better insight into this heartbreaking phenomenon. These people identified the causes that lead to students becoming depressed and provided a roadmap of how to move past it and fight it without giving in to it.
‘PRESSURE OF ACADEMIC GRADES MAJOR CAUSE OF DEPRESSION’
Speaking on the matter, Psychologist Dr Asir Ajmal said, “I believe hopelessness, the pressure of academic grades and difficulty in communication with parents has given rise to all sort of issues.”
However, Dr Ajmal felt that the solution to this issue cannot be found by “playing into the hands of multinational corporations who “sell depression” because their only goal is to “market pharmaceuticals”.
Dr Ajmal defined depression as a “psychological set of problems” rather than a “mental illness,” terming the cause of depression as “mal-adaptive attitude”.
“Thousands of doctors in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) agree with this view,” he asserted.
According to the doctor, this meant that if someone had failed an exam, the person would condition themselves to believe that “I am a failure” instead of “I have failed this exam”. What the person does not come to terms with is that he or she was the same person before and after the exam and subsequently has the ability to improve the result.
“People should treat failure as a stepping stone towards success,” Dr Ajmal iterated.
“Different students have different abilities and considering a lot of students are forced into choosing subjects which do not match their attitude, they are likely to become depressed as a result of the pressure. This is why subjects must be chosen according to the students’ abilities,” remarked Dr Ajmal.
He added that when “parents, schools and universities” do not understand this, they end up creating “low self-esteem within students”.
Universities and schools, he said, consequently end up creating four kinds of “irrational thinking” among students. These are, “Low self-esteem, catastrophising issues, demands of self in others and low frustration tolerance.”
“Students feel stuck and think that everything is finished and they believe they cannot take it anymore due to the immense pressure on them.”
The psychology expert also told Pakistan Today, “This type of thinking can be managed and parents need to understand that.”
“A student who is failing mathematics should not be forced to become an engineer by his parents or by himself.”
Detailing on possible solutions, the doctor said, “The ability to manage emotions is not taught to our students and therefore, schools and universities should have an emotional literacy program that teaches students how to identify emotions and understand their feelings.”
“A similar kind of emotional literacy program is in place for grade one students in the UK,” Dr Asir told Pakistan Today.
‘THREE-TIERED EDU SYSTEM ONE OF THE MAIN CAUSES OF DEPRESSION’
Public health professor and sociologist Dr Zakria Zakar told Pakistan Today that the main causes of depression in educational institutes include “social inequality, slow economic growth, lack of opportunities for the youth and the three-tiered educational system”.
He explained that many students “came to class with their family problems looming over their thinking” which not only hampered their ability to learn but also depressed them.
“The three-tiered educational system also causes students to be depressed, especially students with a rural background who try to find solace by joining religiously motivated student organisations,” the sociologist explained to Pakistan Today.
He also said, “There is a limited amount of students that public sector universities can admit and most private sector institutions charge fee that is beyond the students financial abilities and this, in turn, creates immense pressure on the students to achieve good grades and consequently those who do not achieve what they aim for end up being depressed.”
‘MEDICINE, PSYCHOTHERAPY BOTH CAN BE USED TO BATTLE DEPRESSION’
Lahore Psychiatry Hospital Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Abdul Majeed, while speaking about solutions, explained to Pakistan Today, “There are different treatments for different people because of varying personalities.”
“Both medicine and psychotherapy can be used to help a patient battle depression,” he added.