Long Shadows Of The Mind
For depression or severe anxiety issues, we must stop thinking in terms of jinns and faith healers. The patient needs care, compassion and medical treatment
Recently a friend mailed me an article in Greater Kashmir about mental health and stigmatization. While reading it, I was convinced that mental health in Kashmir is still a taboo subject. People don’t talk about it. When somebody says that they have some mental health issues – no matter how small it is – he or she is given the title of certified PAGAL.
This thing about our society is very discouraging. It is not supportive of those ailing with mental ailments. Another important that the write-up highlighted was how Kashmir society still does not believe in mental illnesses. So many times, the belief of the people around us is that the person has been possessed by a “jinn”. If we speak to someone about anxiety or depression, the person immediately responds – Visit a faith healer; somebody might have done black magic on you.
I have a friend whose mother in law doesn’t let her eat anywhere. She thinks her daughter-in-law might be fed with something and she might get an urge to leave her son. This is so bizarre. And the mother-in-law in question is an educated woman and holds a high-profile job.
Superstition Can Lead To Tragic Consequences
At times, our beliefs and superstitions can lead to tragic consequences. I hail from Sopore. I am personally aware of an incident that happened in a village near Sopore. A girl who was about 15 or 16 years old told her parents that she was having trouble concentrating and could not eat anything. Her parents consulted the imam of a masjid who was quite young.
After examining the girl, he told her parents that she was possessed by a jinn who was harming her. He told the girl’s parents that the jinn is in love with the girl and won’t leave. They shall have to marry the girl to the jinn.
The family believed him. They dressed up the girl like a bride and put henna on her hands. The marriage was solemnized. The girl didn’t heal. The so-called faith healer started staying at the family’s place so he could supposedly treat the girl. What happened next is highly shocking. The faith healer ran away with the girl and stole money from the masjid’s baitul maal. The couple eventually came back after getting married. People might think that this is an isolated incident but no, it is not so. I have heard so many stories of these things actually happening in our society but they often go unnoticed. We tend to take such incidents lightly and move on. We don’t let these incidents jolt our thinking or make us question our belief patterns.
In May 2022, a faith healer namely Zakir Ahmad Naik was arrested after he beat a woman to death in an attempt to exorcise evil spirits from her body. While she was getting beaten her mother tried to intervene, but she was also beaten by the said faith healer.
Blind Faith Led To Child Abuse
In September 2017 a moulvi named Aijaz Sheikh was arrested for raping minor boys. Aijaz Sheikh told his followers that he would drive away the evil eye that is causing problems including mental health problems to his followers with the help of jinns. His condition was that his followers would leave their boys not more than 14 years old at his home because they are pure and jinns would only talk to pure souls. When the families left their young boys with this moulvi, he would sodomize them. The boys were traumatized by this experience and they carried the scars for life. One of the victims could finally talk about the traumatic experience only with his wife. He could not gather the courage to tell anyone else of his sexual exploitation by the moulvi.
Why do some people who claim to be faith healers manage to exploit the society? It is because the society places blind faith in them. When somebody develops symptoms of mental disorders, their families should take them to a doctor to seek professional help. Instead, their families take them to people who claim to be spiritual healers. Many so-called spiritual healers abuse the patients in worst possible ways. The patient needs immediate medical aid, but he or she is forced to go through quackery. Valuable time is lost, and the patient’s condition deteriorates. At times, a problem that could have been treated if professionally addressed in time becomes a chronic illness.
When my mother was teaching in a school, she told us that a girl in her school used to faint frequently. The school management informed the girl’s parents. The teachers were later shocked to know that the family had taken the girl to a faith healer who tortured the girl by piercing her finger tips with a needle. The faith healer told the girl’s family that she was possessed by a jinn and that is why she used to faint often. He said that piercing her fingers with needles was the only way to wake her up.
The girl’s condition did not improve. The teachers were very angry with the girl’s father for getting the poor child tortured. They prevailed upon him to take her to a doctor. Such incidents are reported from all over India. They are common in societies which are low in education and awareness.
Such bizarre incidents are also reported from so-called developed and educated societies. One hears of such incidents also at cults in developed nations. Our natural tendency to believe, to hope in divine miracles is exploited by tricksters and fraudsters who claim to have divine power.
Drop Stigma For Mental Health Disorders
According to WHO, depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, more than 264 million people suffer from it. It negatively impacts the way we feel, the way we think and act. The main symptoms of a person going through depression include a persistent sadness, the feeling of being low. The sufferer loses interest in those activities which he once used to enjoy.
Depression impacts people of all ages and all communities. WHO reports that depression is a main cause of disability globally. People suffering from it should be taken to see a doctor. But often, the stigma attached to depression makes the family hesitate from seeking medical advice. We think – what will people say if we reveal that our family member is suffering from depression? At times, even the patient is not ready to admit that he/she is suffering from depression. Many times, people start believing in the fantasy stories of being possessed by jinns.
Consult A Doctor, Not A So-Called Spiritual Healer
A friend of mine suffered depression for a brief period of time when she was caught at home having a gap year. When she told her parents that she should see a psychiatrist, her mother took her to a pandit. The mother thought that someone had done jadu-tona one her daughter and the pandit was the right person to heal her. The girl repeatedly had to explain it to her parents that she was worried about her career suffering, and that is why she was feeling depressed.
A young woman I know was recently taken by her mother to visit a spiritual healer because the girl couldn’t sleep. Her mother believed that somebody had done black magic on her daughter, and that is why the girl could not sleep. The truth was that the girl was agitated because of the delay in her marriage. The faith healer, meanwhile, asked the family to give him a huge amount of money so that he could rid her of evil spirits.
If only parents would acknowledge that their kids can actually have issues with their mental health, a lot of such problems would get resolved with medical aid, instead of knocking the doors of so-called faith healers. We fail to realize that like physical ailments, mental ailments are as much a part of human life. We treat all physical ailments with kindness, compassion and care. Similarly, all mental ailments too must be acknowledged, and treated with kindness, compassion and care.
‘Human brain is wired to be attracted to familiarity’
I asked a psychotherapist Mr Yaqeen Sikander regarding why people believe that someone has been possessed by a jinn, but they don’t admit that the person has a mental health issue and needs treatment. Mr Sikander told me, “This happens because of the lack of mental health awareness. Human brain is wired to be attracted to familiarity. Faith healing is a familiar concept in our culture. People do not have a cognitive frame that is well developed for mental health. They do not have an understanding of it. This leads to confusion. In the end, people are desperate to get healed. Hence they turn to things which do not really lead to fruitful results and can actually be counter-productive.”