The stigma surrounding mental health isn’t specific to Pakistan — it’s that taboo topic you’ll find lurking in the corners of every house worldwide. The way we feel is integral to the way we function, and when we have the flu or a fever, the world allows us to take a second to recover. When we’re grappling with panic attacks and depression, we’re still expected to fulfil the individual responsibilities of showing up to work, going out with our friends, and never slipping up by allowing ourselves to complain. Openly admitting the existence of a mental illness invites people to treat you as if there’s something untouchable about you — despite the fact that suffering from depression or anxiety is extremely common, affecting roughly three hundred million people globally.
2018 saw a slew of tragic losses to depression, and what we learned from stories like Anam Tanoli’s and the death of a BNU student recently are that we often ignore the signs. The late model had voiced the negative affect cyberbullying had on her, to a disappointingly quiet response. Similarly, a telling Instagram post by the now deceased BNU student was met with calls of attention seeking rather than empathy. If we are to learn and grow as a society, we have to learn from these events and do better. The popular model Rehmat Ajmal took to Instagram last night and reigned in the new year with a fresh case of honesty. In a world where Instagram is the equivalent of a resumé for millennial models, Rehmat broke the mould of filtered, happy pictures by penning a letter to her followers about depression. Namely, her own struggle with it. The letter itself deals with openly talking about managing panic attacks, toxic relationships, rejection, and suicidal thoughts. It takes courage to talk about personal battles and traumas to such a large and varied audience, but it’s also incredibly important. In its own subtle way, her post highlights the biggest misconception about mental illness of all: people seem to think everyone is happy. Especially on social media, where it’s easy to brand yourself as well travelled, well dressed, and always busy. We’re all flooded with these images in a never-ending stream, which is what leads us all to think we’re the odd ones out. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, though. It doesn’t single anyone out maliciously or always stem from a specific source.
Objectively, Rehmat Ajmal is professionally successful, has great friends, and gets to experience some very cool things through her job. Rehmat Ajmal also struggles with depression and anxiety. These are two truths which can live side by side, and both be valid. This is how depression and anxiety work for the majority of us as well— we just think we’re alone in our journeys. Breaking the stigma of mental illness is as simple as talking about it with the person next to you, and Rehmat went one step further by talking to all 67,900 of her followers. The post itself was insightful and full of the kind of wisdom that can make other people suffering similarly feel safer, and less alone. Here’s to wishing Rehmat Ajmal and anyone else dealing with mental illness a healthy new year, full of light and love, and eternal growth.