MENTAL HEALTH IN AFGHANISTAN
Peace of Mind Afghanistan (PoMA) is a national mental health awareness campaign sharing messages and tools about psychological well-being.
Afghans are all too familiar with suffering. While we have developed resilience to such pain, as a side-effect of decades-long conflict, Afghan society lacks a general willingness to acknowledge feelings of grief, anxiety, and trauma. Add to this the reality that Afghanistan lacks substantial mental health support mechanisms and we are left with serious challenges in tackling taboos surrounding psychological needs. We have introduced PoMA as one piece of a larger puzzle to encourage individuals, families, communities, and our country as a whole, to build understanding about the real mental health issues facing millions of us.
All Afghans have experienced trauma and loss. Either directly with our own eyes, ears and bodies, or indirectly through stories and the daily news. How are we dealing with this trauma and grief? How are you dealing with your traumatic experiences and mourning? We know that we Afghans are some of the most resilient people on the planet. And we are proud of it. But what is the cost of this resilience when we do not pay attention to our mental health?
We often do not prioritise our mental health. We’ve got enough to think about — taking care of our children, getting through university and work, finding a job; making enough money, our family health issues, being on time despite traffic jams, our country’s political and security issues. All of these things that we have to think about affect our mental health. But we often neglect the fact that our mental and physical health are the foundations of our life.
What is Peace of Mind Afghanistan?
PEACE has long been the focus of debate in Afghanistan. Such discussions emphasize the challenges that lie ahead for the country — not only achieving a sustainable peace in Afghanistan, but also ensuring that all Afghans experience peace at the individual level. It is at this critical stage that Peace of Mind Afghanistan (PoMA) has entered the national dialogue. Our work draws on these obstacles to peacemaking, peacebuilding and peacekeeping.
The most significant factor contributing to mental health issues in Afghanistan stems from decades of instability and conflict. Peace begins from within our own minds and inside our own homes.
If we want to see peace around us, we need to begin with ourselves by making improvements to our lives that will foster peace in our families, our communities, our society and, ultimately, our own minds.
When you are at peace with yourself, you are at peace with others.
The MIND encompasses more than simply the brain. It includes your heart, your attitudes, your values, and your behaviour. A healthy mind can inspire emotional, psychological, and social well-being, and vice versa.
Mental health refers to this kind of wellness, rather than to illness. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make life choices. A healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body to realise our potential. It helps us to cope with the normal stresses of life, be productive at work and school, and contribute to our roles as productive members of society.
Unfortunately, most inhabitants of AFGHANISTAN are all too familiar with depression and anxiety. This is largely because mental health has never been as much a priority for us as it should have been. It’s difficult to quantify the magnitude of the mental health problem in our country, as very little data is available. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1million Afghans suffer from clinical depression and over 1.2 million suffer from anxiety. This constitutes at least one in every five Afghans, but it is likely that the actual numbers are much higher. However, our struggles are part of our story. They’re not the whole story.
Afghanistan is a country in pain. Pain is real. But, so is hope. We Afghans are resilient. However, this resilience comes at a cost. When we push our feelings down, as we often do, the recovery process becomes slower. Yes, healing is hard, but staying wounded is harder. We seek medical attention when we are physically hurt or unwell. So, why do we shy away from seeking help for our mental health?
Most, if not all of us, have developed internalised mechanisms to deal with experiences of shock, sorrow, and violence. However, due to the stigma and lack of awareness about mental health the issue remains unaddressed. Speaking honestly about our feelings, and seeing care and therapy for mental health issues are still considered unacceptable—even “shameful”—forcing many to suffer in silence. It also doesn’t help that resources allocated for mental healthcare are sparse and unevenly distributed. Of course, in a country like ours that is constantly reeling from increasing violence, mending physical injuries takes precedence over addressing mental distress.
The escalation of mental health issues in Afghanistan—and the serious gaps in awareness and accessible healthcare—has grown into a widespread pandemic that affects almost all of us. It needs urgent and prioritised attention.
who we are
Peace of Mind Afghanistan (PoMA) is a network of psychologists, storytellers, community leaders, professors and mental health champions focused on expanding mental health literacy and creating a stronger dialogue around these issues in Afghanistan. PoMA is made up of both national and international team members working to effect real change in how we understand and view mental health by bringing the conversation into the mainstream.
what we do
PoMA is a national mental health awareness campaign that shares messages and tools about psychological well-being.
It brings psychologists, healthcare workers, educators, change-makers, government officials, family members, survivors, and the general public in Afghanistan together in a unified platform designed to create awareness. We’re spreading positive messages that increase mental health literacy, debunk myths, offer support and destigmatize mental health through storytelling and events for dialogues and exchanges with key stakeholders.
The messages in our campaign touch upon some of the most common issues challenging mental health in Afghanistan;
GRIEF AND LOSS
The many Afghans who are struggling with such severe mental health challenges deserve the appropriate support and care. However, the PoMA campaign is currently limited to raising awareness and providing tools to help a specific population. If you are experiencing a life-threatening situation please contact your doctor.
In order to begin addressing the above problems, the PoMA campaign uses innovative and creative media to reach out to and connect with Afghans across the country.
- PoMA is delivering theatre performances in Kabul, Bamyan, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, carrying messages related to mental health awareness;
- The theatre performance is being adapted for radio, allowing its messages to reach audiences beyond the urban centres;
- A short film with specific messages is being produced for social media and screening at events
- Messages are being spread across magazines, newspapers, billboards and car windows to ensure maximum exposure;
- Some of Afghanistan’s most talented street artists are creating public art depicting messages of mental health and well-being across Kabul and other cities.
- PoMA is producing a documentary film that explores the subject of mental health in the country through the personal stories of its protagonists. It will be screened across Afghanistan, and made available with accompanying facilitators guides to anyone wishing to conduct a mental health workshop in their region. Please feel free to reach out to us to help you facilitate a screening;
- PoMA, in collaboration with psychologists and mental health experts, has designed mental health workshops to assist in educating and informing key stakeholders and the public on mental health issues and ways to deal with them. These workshops will be held in five cities; Kabul, Bamyan, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif.
We want to increase mental health literacy among Afghans. We hope the insights, stories and knowledge we share will support individuals, families and communities to take positive steps towards improving their mental health. Although we cannot address severe mental health issues within the scope of our campaign, we aim to build overall awareness and foster an enabling environment in which stakeholders could possibly intervene in future. In this regard, we also aim to build the capacity of stakeholders who work in improving the mental healthcare sector and provide support by creating a platform for them to participate in and connect with.
We hope our coordinated efforts will engage the nation in an urgent dialogue to destigmatise mental health and believe, as the Afghan proverb says, “Qatra qatra, darya mesha” (“Drop by drop, a river is formed”).
Dr. Rohullah Amin is a psychologist by profession and has conducted independent social psychological research on the psychology of peace within the context of Afghanistan, as well as on the impact of violent conflict on public mental health. He has developed theories on organizational development and organizational behavioral changes in the workforce under conditions of psychological stress. Prior to this, Dr. Amin had studied curative medicine at Kabul Medical University and a postgraduate in psychology at New York University in 2013. Over the last few years, Dr. Amin has conducted research on the psychology of peacebuilding and the rehabilitation of war mentality.
Dr. Martha Bragin is jointly appointed Associate Professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and the Doctoral Program in Social Welfare at the Graduate Center of CUNY. She is a member of the Committee on Psychoanalysis in the Community of the American Psychoanalytic Association, a member of the working group on the psychological effects of social marginalization and a fellow of the Research Training Program of the IPA. She is an appointed member of United Nations’ Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings that sets and monitors standards for psychosocial interventions in emergency settings.
Over the course of his 50-year career, Michael Friedman has served as a direct service provider, an administrator, a government official, and a social advocate. He retired in 2010 from his position as Director of The Center for Policy, Advocacy, and Education of The Mental Health Association of New York City, which he founded in 2003. He also retired as Chair of the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York, which he co-founded in 2004, and as the Facilitator of the Veterans’ Mental Health Coalition in NYC, which he co-founded in 2009. Since his retirement he has continued to teach at the Columbia School of Social Work and to write frequently about mental health, aging, and other topics.
- Mr. Friedman previously served as Regional Director (Deputy Commissioner) of the New York State Office of Mental Health, Director of Network Development for The Department of Psychiatry of New York Presbyterian Hospital, Executive Director of The Mental Health Association of Westchester.
· Mr. Friedman has served on advisory and advocacy groups at the local, state, and federal levels. Among others, he served as President of the Coalition of Voluntary Mental Health Agencies, Chairman of the Hudson River Planning Advisory Committee of the Office of Mental Health, and Vice-Chairman of the New York City Public Child Fatality Review Committee. He also served on The National Institute of Mental Health Services Research Planning Panel, as a member of the NYS Geriatric Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Planning Council, and on the Health Care Policy Advisory Committee for the NYS Governor’s Transition Team in 2006.He currently serves as volunteer Chair of the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York.
Dr. Gustavson is a psychologist, he started out in graduate school in cultural anthropology afterwards moving into clinical psychology. He worked for several years on HIV/AIDS prevention, had a private practice for a number of years in Seattle, WA and have worked and lived in Afghanistan for the last eight years. For the last two years he has been very involved training staff in women's shelters across the country and am just starting a project focused on women in internal refugee camps.
Dr. Heidi Horsley, is a grief expert and the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Open to Hope, an international organization committed to providing hope and resources to grieving people. She co-hosts an award winning cable TV show and radio show. She splits her time between NYC and Arizona, and teaches classes both online and residentially. Dr. Horsley serves on The Compassionate Friends National Board of Directors, and on the Advisory Boards for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors of Loss, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation
Dr. Nestadt is a psychiatrist who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of anxiety disorders, particularly in behavioral interventions such as exposure-based therapies. Since completing residency, he has served as the primary supervising psychiatrist for the Johns Hopkins Hospital Anxiety Disorders Consultation Clinic. He also attends on the inpatient Motivated Behaviors Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he treats patients suffering from comorbid psychiatric and behavioral crises. Dr. Nestadt’s research focuses on the epidemiology of suicide. He is interested in the role of practical factors, such as firearm access and opiate use, in the risk of suicide death. His methodological expertise includes large scale regression based data analysis, post-mortem clinical evaluation, and evaluation of determination of manner of death. He also works with the Doubt/ OCD genetics group and the broader suicide prevention workgroup at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Hadi Rasooli is a medical doctor. He has received his medical education from the College of Medicine in Herat, Afghanistan. He further continued his medical training completing the Psychiatric Residency Program at the Herat Regional Hospital. Dr. Rasooli currently is private psychiatric practitioner. He is also an experienced educator, serving as a lecturer in psychology courses at Eshraq and Ghalib Universities, an associate professor at Herat University co-teaching a course in social work, and as a National Mental Health Specialist Trainer to the Ministry of Public Health.
Ms. Kamila Sadiqi, Chief Executive Officer of Kaweyan Holding Group, is a prominent economic activist in Afghanistan who has worked in leadership roles in various sectors. Currently, she is the Deputy Minister for Commerce at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in June 2017. From 2014-2017 she was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Admin and Finance in the Administrative Office of President. For the past several years, she has been actively engaged in promoting gender issues, private sector development, transparency and anti-corruption in Afghanistan. Prior to joining the government, Ms. Sidiqi was a successful entrepreneur and was one the first businesswomen of Afghanistan.
Founder & Executive Director
Lyla Schwartz is a clinical psychology practitioner and researcher with expertise in childhood trauma, childhood abandonment, war-conflict trauma, emergency psychological interventions and behavioral health. After working in the mental health sector in the United States, she engaged in critical frontline work in Haiti, South Africa, India, Peru, Thailand and Iraq with a focus on providing emergency psychological aid to youth traumatized by armed conflict, victimes of torture and exploitation and youth at risk of suicide. In Greece her work with vulnerable Afghan refugee youths spurred her to pursue emergency work in Afghanistan and since early 2018, she has been based in Kabul and engaged in frontline critical psychological care provision and has forged partnerships with Afghan hospitals, aid organizations and government agencies. Recognizing the need for structural and policy-level changes in order to improve the mental health and psychological care outlook of Afghanistan, Ms Schwartz has become increasingly focused on consulting work, first through the Etidal Foundation where she has served as Psychology Director, and then founding Peace of Mind Afghanistan, for which she serves as Executive Director. Ms Schwartz is currently engage in critical research, assessments, evaluations, policy development and action frameworks to bring about better outcomes in the Afghan mental health sector.
Jordan Bryon is a story activist specializing in social impact storytelling. With a focus on film and cross-platform storytelling projects that fuse documentary, public installation, visual arts and theatre, Jordan has worked around the world in Afghanistan, Jordan, Palestine, Uganda, India, Japan, Ecuador, Peru and Australia.
Jordan’s stories have been seen globally on TVs, cinemas, theatres, news outlets, the streets, and festivals. Jordan’s most recent feature documentary film, Birds of the Borderlands (Jordan, 2017), has so far screened at 15 international film festivals.
Currently Creative Director on the Peace of Mind Afghanistan campaign, Jordan has co-created films, theatre, billboards, street art, website and more.
Fatima Jafari is a motivated individual who is passionate in bringing fundamental changes in Psychology in Afghanistan. She studied Psychology and Transnational Studies and she is interested in trauma and depression among women and has done researches in these field. Currently, she is working as Psychosocial Officer at PoMA.
Finance & Operations Manager
Hikmat Noori, is a young and promising Afghan who has, since his early years, worked towards rebuilding his war-torn nation. Noori is the Finance and Operations Manager at PoMA. Noori has worked with many reputable organizations such as City University of New York, World Bank, United Nations, among others.
Finance & Operations Assistant
Baborzai Hakimi is the Finance and Operation Assistant who helps the team run efficiently. Before starting with PoMA, Hakimi worked with numerous prestigious organizations such as Nestle Afghanistan, US Army and more.