Home > Apathy, ignorance or both? – The Express Tribune

Apathy, ignorance or both? – The Express Tribune

There is a need to be sympat­hetic to the list of proble­ms that lead people to commit­ting suicid­e

KARACHI: An article published in September 2015, in a national newspaper, reported that during the first eight months of this year, 1,768 attempted suicide patients were brought to hospitals in Faisalabad. Some 300 of them died. The article begins in the following manner: “Life is the most beautiful and precious gift … but … certain individuals with weak faith throw away this gift by ending their own lives.” The article then provides a whole list of problems that lead people to this extreme act. It then adds that, “during recent times this dreadful and contemptible crime is on the rise … and like other districts of Pakistan, there is no shortage of people in Faisalabad who choose this sacrilegious act.”

A renowned columnist and political analyst in an Urdu newspaper, in August 2015, strongly criticised and condemned the speeches and behaviours of two party heads, Mr A and Mr B. While condemning them, he wrote, “Mr A suffers from bipolar disorder … this is even worse than schizophrenia because the person loses self-control. This is the last stage of self-deception. In the last few months, his speeches are the reflection of that…” In another column, while giving his explanation of the plight of the province of Sindh, he wrote, “Sindh has to face two patients of bipolar disorder — Mr B and Mr A … ask any physician, and he would tell you that the patient becomes disinhibited … this was the state when Mr B threatened the military…”

Although the above two examples appear quite different, there is a common thread of portraying psychiatric illnesses as condemnable. After such an introduction of people who attempt or commit suicide, where the act is depicted as a “dreadful and contemptible crime”, would anyone be sympathetic to the list of problems that lead those people to the act? Portraying any patient’s symptoms to make one’s case stronger is neither ethical nor does it strengthen the argument. In fact, if, for the sake of argument, one accepts that the two leaders do suffer from the stated illnesses and as inferred that due to this they were not in control of themselves, then are they responsible for their actions or are those who appointed them and then let them stay in those positions, responsible? Have we ever thought that if we keep on highlighting the negative aspects of any issue in this manner, will we ever be able to tackle that issue with a neutral stance or with a positive attitude? Do we have any consideration for those people who are suffering from severe depression with suicidal ideation or bipolar disorders? Will these kinds of comments help or hinder them in seeking help? How will those patients who have completely recovered and those who have their disease under control through treatment, feel? After reading such comments, will the sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters and husband and wives of such patients have the courage to disclose their loved ones’ problems and seek help?

Delay in the treatment of any illness, be it physical or psychiatric, can have serious consequences. When we pass such negative judgments, we increase the stigma that contributes to delaying help-seeking behaviour. If the patient’s condition deteriorates further and they commit suicide or end up in a mishap, how responsible are they for their acts and how accountable is the person who created such an environment where the sufferer could not come forward for timely intervention? None of the illnesses, physical or psychiatric, have the same intensity in every individual. A patient of cancer could lead a healthy life after treatment but a patient of pneumonia might die due to its complications. A comparison of two different illnesses to prove one’s point is neither just nor helpful. Promoting education and awareness about mental illness and relieving the miseries of people are moral obligations, whether we work in journalism or medicine. This is why it was once said, “You can fairly judge the character of a society by how it treats the weak, the vulnerable, the most easily forgotten.”

Dr Muhammad Naim Siddiqi

Head of Department of Psychiatry

Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation

Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2015.

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