Health

Unemployment, poverty, and school closures creating mental health crisis

By Omar

Loss of government jobs and the closure of schools and universities for girls have led to a 7% increase in mental health problems among educated and young people in Herat province since the previous government collapsed in August 2021. [Omar/Salaam Times]

HERAT -- Loss of government jobs and the closure of schools and universities have led to an increase in mental health problems among Afghans since the previous government collapsed, according to doctors.

Two groups they are seeing disproportionately are the young and the educated.

Between 200 and 250 patients are brought to the hospital's psychiatric ward every day, some of whom are hospitalised, said Dr. Wahid Ahmad Noorzad, director of the psychiatric ward at Herat Regional Hospital.

Some 30,000 individuals have been taken to the ward over the past five months because of mental health issues -- 60% of whom are students and laid-off government employees.

Two men suffering from mental health problems are hospitalised January 27 at Herat Regional Hospital. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Two men suffering from mental health problems are hospitalised January 27 at Herat Regional Hospital. [Omar/Salaam Times]

"The number of visits is increasing day by day from mental anguish, which is worrisome," he said. "Compared to last year, the numbers show a 7% increase," he added.

"The recent developments in the country have led to concerns among people, causing stress and anxiety," he said.

"In particular, those who have lost their jobs and view themselves in a helpless and uncertain situation suffer from mental anguish the most."

Seventy-five percent of psychiatric ward patients are women, the majority of whom are students and career women, Noorzad said.

Women and girls had strong ties to society before the fall of the previous government when they could work and study, but today they are trapped at home doing nothing, he said.

"Many students visit us because they are concerned about their future and don't know what lies next," he added.

"Under the current circumstances, they are not sure if they will be able to continue their education."

Disappointment and uncertainty

Fazel Ahmad Wahedi, 22, an agriculture student at Farah University, was hospitalised at Herat Regional Hospital's psychiatric ward after facing mental illness, which began after his university closed.

He was disappointed because he missed two semesters of college after the recent changes in the country, he said.

"I am very concerned about my future as I fell one year behind in my life," Wahedi said. "I would have moved one year forward had it not been for the current situation."

"Our university is closed, and our studies are halted," he said. "I frequently wonder what the future will be like and how I will find a job. The halt to our studies halfway through bothers me a lot."

He feels helpless after the closure of his university and his life has taken a dark turn, he said.

Fatima Haidari, who worked at the Herat Urban Development and Land Department for four years, lost her job after the fall of the previous government and is now forced to stay at home.

Isolated from society and unemployed, she is now suffering from mental illness. With the loss of her job, her lifelong dreams and goals have been destroyed too, Fatima said.

"I used to go to work very eagerly every morning and work late hours to serve my country and people," she said.

"I was hoping for Afghanistan to progress like other countries so that Afghan men and women can live in prosperity, but everything was destroyed in a matter of seconds."

"There is no future to hope for," she said. "We, all educated women, are confined to our houses and face an uncertain future."

Nowadays living in Afghanistan is "like living in hell" for her and most other Afghan women, she said.

Increasing economic challenges

Because of rising unemployment in recent months, economic problems faced by Afghan families have increased to an unprecedented level.

More than 22 million Afghans, meaning more than half the population, will suffer food insecurity this winter, the United Nations has said.

Most families cannot provide even one meal a day.

Ghulam Haidar, 50, who is the only breadwinner of a family of seven, has worked only three days in the past two months.

Every morning, he goes to the area where workers wait on a roadside in Herat city to be picked up for work. He returns home empty-handed in the evening.

He earned only 450 AFN ($4.36) in his three days of work, he said.

"I have never become so helpless and desperate in my life as I have been in the past few months," he said. "I used to work and had a decent life, but now we can’t even find a piece of bread."

"My brain does not function like before as economic pressure has increased, and I do nothing but stress myself out," he added.

Ehsan Ahmadi, a psychologist in Herat city, is shocked by the scale of mental health cases. It will be impossible to contain them if the situation continues, he said.

Unemployment and economic problems stemming from the present situation have made many lives difficult, causing stress and mental anguish, he said.

"Financial stress within families causes violent behaviour. When children want food but parents can't provide it, it leads to mental anguish among parents and they involuntarily become violent," he said. <<translator said 'subconsciously become.' i chose 'involuntarily' as making more sense >>>>>

"Economic hardship is the leading cause of mental health problems among many of my patients," Ahmadi added.

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The suffrage of many educated and young people with mental health problems does not know about their fate. They do not know what will happen to them. Every young man thinks of a hundred and a thousand other questions. No one's fate is known as what will happen to them. Those of the youth who used years to get an education now beg because the entire system is jammed. When work opportunities are created, people will not face difficulties; however, in the ongoing conditions, people are concerned about their future and do not know what will happen to them. It is like a life in the darkness that we live in now. Days and nights are passing, kind of dirt is going on. May the Taliban and the thieves who were so cruel to the country get lost.

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