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.