Written by: Bangir Mahmud & Afra Anjum Associates, YPF Healthcare Policy Team
Graphics: Mysha Farah, Co-Lead, YPF Healthcare Policy Team
In the bustling streets of Bangladesh, all homes are filled with young people sitting alone in their rooms, grappling with anxiety and depression. Some may manage to seek help, but some cannot dare to do that even, due to the repercussions of considering mental health situations as taboo associated with mental diseases and seeking mental health treatment. In recent times, there has been a sharp rise in suicide attempts among the students of public universities. Last year in 2022, Antu Roy, 21, a third-year student at KUET’s Textile Engineering Department, was found dead in his home, it was known that he was a very excellent student. We simply cannot sit quietly in this. It is high time to come forward with all means of help and support for the youth to create a safe place and help them drive their own moral compass.
In Bangladesh, mental health has always been a taboo issue in society and has been largely disregarded at the policy level. This June, the government launched its first-ever National Mental Health Policy 2022, which is received with praise. Apart from the fact that it took this long for the government to recognize the country’s enormous mental health problem plaguing a huge number of young populations. The topic of mental healthcare is one of SDG 3’s critical aims (Health and Wellbeing: Ensure healthy lifestyles and promote well-being for all at all ages). The goals are as follows: “By 2030, reduce almost one-third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.” Mental health diseases (specifically depression) have been projected to be the leading cause of global mortality and morbidity by WHO. Hence, it’s evident that addressing mental health quality should be one of the top priorities for a country like ours to achieve the SDG-3 health goals.
Unfortunately, suicide has become a common incident at an alarming rate among Bangladeshi students for the last couple of years. According to recent newspaper reports, at least 10% of Rajshahi University students are suffering from mental health issues and 8 students have committed suicide in the past two years. Despite the university authority’s very immediate action to help the students with their mental health services, the damage is done. According to a study conducted in Dhaka in 2023, 585 students in total committed suicide in 2022. There were 340 high school pupils, 106 college students, 85 university students, and 54 madrasa, or Islamic seminary students among them. According to the Aachol Foundation, suicide is on the rise among students of all academic levels. Mental health issues have been a critical component of everyone’s life at every stage, becoming society’s silent parasite. The young, on the other hand, have borne the brunt of it, unable to comprehend how to deal an incomprehensible health issue. What’s worse is failing to recognize it and then engaging in dangerous escapes such as drug use and other crimes, which eventually destroys the family as well as all hope for a young life.
This can be fueled due to number of reasons such as unresolved childhood trauma, absence of proper parenting, academic Pressure, family Expectations, economic challenges, social isolation, cultural stigma, lack of mental health awareness, lack of access to healthcare, unemployment, political and social unrest, improper use of technology and social media, climate change and environmental stressors, substance abuse, gender inequality and so on so forth.
While exploring the current landscape of mental health, these areas draw the attention for it’s unprecedent number of and lack of prevention that is needed, causing long term mental health crisis to the young generation of Bangladesh, where there exists a significant stigma around mental health. Many young individuals are hesitant to discuss their mental health concerns openly due to the fear of judgment. It is more challenging for the people residing in the countryside as access to mental health services remains limited in rural areas. At the same time, research access for the psychiatrists and other mental health experts remains challenging if they want to include rural areas. Mental health treatments are frequently confined to a divisional tertiary level, with psychiatrists working at public medical college hospitals in large divisional cities. With just 260 psychiatrists serving a population of 162 million through govt medical colleges (Hasan et all,2022), which is clearly not adequate. BMJ Psychiatry published a research on December 19, 2022 that states 73.5% of the country’s school-aged teenagers are suffering stress symptoms to varying degrees. Approximately 65% of teenagers have moderate stress symptoms, whereas 9% have severe stress symptoms. Most of the young Bangladeshis currently face a lot of academic pressures on a daily basis. The desire of high grades and achieving high scores/ positions in the competitive exams is causing extra stress, worry, and depression among today’s youngsters. On top of it,, the excessive and improper use of social media has deliberately caused distraction and anti-social behavior. Following research performed by the Aachol Foundation (a student-based social organization), 85.9% of students who had mental health concerns at some point in their lives have recognized the internet as a significant cause behind their stress. Common social challenge like poverty, unemployment and illiteracy are often resulting in drugs addiction and abuse.
Mental health support has always been needed, but the post pandemic situation drew our attention to it like never before. According to a poll, 75.85% of university-level students in Bangladesh are experiencing various mental health concerns in the post-pandemic period, indicating a disturbing trend of the susceptible mental condition of Bangladesh’s future generation. Which is why it has become inevitable for everyone to come forward with sincerity, empathy, support and most importantly, more tolerance in order to combat such scenarios.
A quiet yet transformative movement is taking root in the heart of Bangladesh: a movement that aims to improve the well-being of the country’s youth by providing them with the tools they need to face life’s obstacles efficiently. This Mental Health support movement understands that the mental health of the Bangladeshi youths is an invaluable resource that demands attention, care, and a significant strategy to bring about positive change.
- WHO. (2011). Global burden of mental disorders and the need for a comprehensive, coordinated response from health and social sectors at the country level: Report by the Secretariat.
Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/EB130/B130_9-en.pdf