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Nearly 2,000 women admitted to Herat’s mental health department in just six months 

By Matin Mehrab 

Maliha* is brought to the inpatient mental health department of the Herat regional hospital, where two female nurses hold her hands. Her mother is by her side. She keeps repeating to himself, “I’m fine and I’m fine, why have you brought me here?” 

She is 41 years old and the mother of two sons, ages 21 and 14. After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Maliha’s 21-year-old son saw no future for himself in the country. He left home through smuggling routes for Europe. “There has been no news of Maliha’s son for three months,” says her mother, Fereshta*.  “Since her son’s disappearance, Maliha has become depressed and has become extremely aggressive and nervous in recent days,” Fereshta tells Zan Times.  

While Maliha’s mental health deteriorated since his departure, not knowing his fate is only part of Maliha’s problems: her husband was a police officer during the previous government and now she constantly worries that he will be killed by the Taliban. 

Her mother says that Maliha continuously listens to the news to find any information about her son. She’s particularly affected when she hears of Afghan refugees drowning in the waters between Turkey and Greece. 

Eventually, the worries were too much, and Maliha went to the mental health hospital. 

These days, there is a very long queue of people waiting to be seen by staff at the mental health part of the Herat regional hospital. Most of the clients are young women.  

A hospital official tells Zan Times that the number of people visiting Herat’s mental health facilities has increased by more than 50 percent in just six months. He said that a total of 2,548 patients were admitted to the mental health department in six months, starting in late March 2022, of which 1,911 were women. That six-month tally is a huge increase from all 12 months of the previous 12 months, when 1,978 mental health patients, including 1,583 women, were admitted to the hospital.  

According to Herat mental health officials, the main factors contributing to the sharp increase in female mental health issues are the Taliban’s social restrictions, the loss of financial independence, domestic violence, and concerns about their future.  

Samirai*, 25, who sought counselling and medical help at the Herat hospital, says that she has been depressed for the past few months because of violence by her husband as well as knowing she can’t return to her work in a government office because of Taliban edicts.  

Samira, who used to earn 15,000 afghani a month, now depends on her husband’s income. What contributes to her depression is a significant change in her husband’s behaviour after the return of the Taliban. “This year he slapped me several times and humiliated me. I cannot bear this situation as an independent woman who had a job and money.” 

Samira adds, “Initially, I used to defend myself, but now I just look into his eyes and keep silent. Sometimes when the issue becomes very serious, I leave the house and go to my father; this is a mental torture that I cannot bear.” 

Officials of the hospital’s mental health department also report an increase in the number of suicides caused by mental illnesses. Dr. Hamida Ahrari*, a clinical psychology professor at one of Herat’s private universities, says, “The Taliban’s restrictions and suppression of women are the main reasons for mental illnesses and suicide among women.” 

Ahrari adds that lots of men and women are suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts because of the tough situation in Afghanistan.   

Her conclusions are echoed by a new poll that reveals that almost the entire population of Afghanistan (98 percent of those surveyed) say they are “suffering,” while only two percent say they are “struggling.” No one chose the third option, “thriving,” in the results published by Gallup, a respected international polling firm, on Thursday, December 1.   

The Gallup poll, based on interviews with a thousand adults in Afghanistan in July and August 2022, found that nine out of 10 Afghan are finding it “difficult or very difficult” to make ends meet, with more than 90 percent rating the situation as “bad” for finding jobs. The survey also notes that “the percentage who say it is a bad time to find a job in their communities soared to a record 92% in 2022, shattering the previous high of 84% in 2021.”  

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees.