Suicidal thoughts are "pandemic" for Afghan women

Burka-clad woman with hands on her head in stock photo

"I just want my voice to be heard. An Afghan university student tells us while fighting back tears, "I'm in pain, and I'm not the only one.

The majority of the female students in my class have considered suicide. We all experience anxiety and depression. No one can help us. ".

The young woman, who was in her early twenties, attempted suicide four months ago as a result of the Taliban government's December 2017 ban on female students attending universities. A psychologist is now providing treatment for her.

Her words shed light on Afghanistan's less obvious but equally pressing health crisis.

"Suicidal thoughts are on the rise in Afghanistan. The world hardly ever considers or discusses the worst situation ever, according to psychologist Dr. Amal.

"The hunger crisis is covered in the news, but mental health is never brought up. People seem to be slowly being poisoned. They are progressively losing hope. ".

To protect them, the BBC changed or omitted the names of every interviewee in this piece.

Within two days of the announcement that women would be prohibited from attending universities, according to Dr. Amal, she received 170 calls for assistance. She now receives seven to ten new calls for assistance every day. Most of her patients are young women and girls.

The UN estimates that one in two people, mostly women, in Afghanistan's deeply patriarchal society, which has been battered by four decades of war, experienced psychological distress even before the Taliban took power in 2021. However, experts have told the BBC that given the Taliban government's restrictions on women's rights and the nation's economic crisis, conditions are now worse than ever.

Six families have agreed to share their stories with us, despite the fact that it is very difficult to get people to talk about suicide.

A member of them is Nadir. He claims that on the first day of the new school year in March of this year, his daughter committed suicide.

"Up until that point, she had thought that girls' schools would eventually reopen. She was certain of it. But when that didn't happen, she was unable to handle it and killed herself," he claims. She was a great student. She wanted to study and serve our country and was intelligent and thoughtful. She cried a lot and became very upset when the schools were closed. ".

Nadir's voice betrays his pain as he speaks.

"Our way of life has been ruined. I have lost all meaning in my life. I'm at my lowest point ever. My wife is extremely upset. She is unable to visit the house where our daughter passed away. ".

His family and other people who were quoted in this article have been linked to a mental health specialist.

Psychologist Dr Amal (name changed and face blurred)
Within two days of the announcement that women would be prohibited from attending universities, according to Dr. Amal, she received 170 calls for assistance.

We were told by the father of a woman in her early twenties what he thought led to his daughter's suicide.

She desired to become a physician. She was distressed and upset when schools were closed," he claims.

But she lost all hope when she was told she couldn't take the university entrance exam. It's a terrible loss," he continues, pausing briefly before breaking down in tears.

Similar tales of girls and young women who are unable to handle their lives and see their futures come to an abrupt halt are told to us frequently.

Meher, a teacher with whom we speak, reveals to us that she has made two attempts at suicide.

"I lost my job because the Taliban closed universities for women. I used to provide for my family financially. I am currently unable to cover the costs. I was really impacted by that," she claims. "I was under pressure to get married because I had to stay at home. All of my future plans were completely destroyed. I attempted suicide because I was completely lost and had no goals or hope. ".

We began investigating this crisis after noticing numerous articles in regional news portals detailing suicides across the nation.

A banner seen with images of women defaced using spray paint after the universities were reopened in Kabul
In this university poster, women's faces have been painted over; in December of last year, Taliban authorities forbade female students from attending universities.

"The situation is critical and catastrophic. However, we are not permitted to collect or access data on suicide. However, I can say with certainty that it's rare to meet someone who is unaffected by a mental illness, asserts Dr. Shaan, an Afghan psychiatrist who works in a government hospital.

Two-thirds of Afghan adolescents reported having depressive symptoms, according to a study conducted in the province of Herat and published in March of this year by the Afghanistan Centre for Epidemiological Studies. There are "widespread mental health issues and escalating reports of suicides," according to the UN.

The Taliban deny keeping track of suicide rates, and they remained silent when asked about an increase in statistics. Due to the stigma surrounding suicide, many families choose not to report it.

Through conversations with numerous people, we have attempted to estimate the severity of the crisis in the absence of data.

"I feel ridiculous staying at home without a job or a future. I'm worn out and have no interest in anything. With tears streaming down her face, a teen girl tells us, "It's like nothing matters anymore.

She made an attempt at suicide. She is with her doctor when we first meet her, and her mother is keeping an eye on her daughter at all times.

We inquire as to their reason for contacting us.

The girl says, "Nothing worse than this can happen, that's why I'm speaking out.". And I reasoned that perhaps if I speak up, something will alter. I believe that the Taliban should be recognized officially if they plan to maintain their position of power. I think they would reopen the schools if that happens. ".

women walking down a street wearing burkas
It's difficult to find someone who isn't dealing with a mental illness, a psychiatrist told the BBC, describing the situation as critical.

According to Dr. Amal, a psychologist, men are also impacted, even though women have been hit harder.

As a man in Afghanistan, you are taught that you should be strong, she claims. But Afghan men are currently unable to shout.  They can't provide financially for their families. They are greatly impacted.

"And unfortunately, when men have suicidal thoughts, they are more likely to succeed in their attempts than women because of how they plan them. ".

We inquire as to what guidance she gives her patients in such a setting.

"The best way of helping others or yourself is not isolating yourself. You can go and talk to your friends, visit your neighbors, or put together a support group for yourself, such as your parents, siblings, or friends, she advises.

"I inquire as to who their role model is.

Additional reporting by Imogen Anderson and Sanjay Ganguly.

.  For instance, if Nelson Mandela is someone you look up to, he spent 26 years in jail, but because of his values, he survived and did something for people.  So that's how I try to give them hope and resilience. "

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