Have the terrorists left us mentally unfit?

This post was originally published on The News Blog in 2011.

by: Mahwash Ajaz.

If it were up to me, it would have been about the relationship of mental health with, in the word of Burns, man’s inhumanity to man, that has made thousands mourn.

From 2003 to 2011, over ten thousand civilians have died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. An additional 3900 security force personnel have died. The highest deaths are tabulated in the year 2011 where almost 2300 civilians and 600 security force personnel were killed.

Not that these numbers aren’t horrifying enough, they still don’t include those injured. These numbers don’t include the number of cars, buildings, houses, and infrastructure destroyed. Also, these numbers do not tell the psychological trauma experienced by people who were affected by the deaths, injuries and loss of valuables, as a result of the terrorist attacks.

Terrorism not only has a domino effect on the economy it also has a snowball effect on the psychology of a people. The fact that parents are frightened to send their children to school of what may happen to them on the way, and the idea that a school full of children may be next on a suicide attacker’s list – are all indicators of some serious psychological repercussions these terrorist attacks have on people.

The woman you see hysterically crying on television because her father/son/brother/husband is being taken to a van in a body bag is, I’m afraid, not the only story. Psychological effects of going through something that big, the sudden loss of a loved one, may result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Combat veterans from the American Civil War showed symptoms (which back then were referred as “soldier’s heart”) that are now categorized as PTSD. You may have heard phrases like “shell-shocked” or “stress reaction” but Psychology has its jargons for these ailments and their treatments likewise. The symptoms include recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma (flashbacks, nightmares, and troublesome memories), avoidance of places, people and experiences that remind the sufferer of the trauma, and chronic physical indicators like sleep problems, trouble concentrating, blackouts and excessive watchfulness to the signs of threat.

With the recurrence of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, there needs to be grief-counseling sessions for the bereaved families. Families of victims need financial/psychological support and the government of Pakistan doesn’t seem anywhere near providing a comprehensive combination of that. The sad truth is that the need hasn’t been recognized. If the media makes a hype about it or if popular talk show hosts pick up a certain story, we may find a Chief Justice taking suo moto notice or we might see more and more NGOs rushing to be a part of the publicity that such occasions offer, but when it comes to providing actual long-term solutions, stuff that probably isn’t as glamorous as television channels may want, there’s no one to go to. There’s no one who would actually invest their time and energies for serious causes like establishing grief-counseling or trauma centers for rehabilitating victims.

Again, it’s not as simple as that. It’s not as simple as injecting money into a spacious, crisp-painted building with wives of ministers enjoying coffee in an air-conditioned room and calling it a trauma center.

It’s about a mindful change that needs to take place. Let’s accept that Pakistan is, in the words of Barack Obama, a center front for fighting terrorism. And let’s also accept that with that we’re stuck between the devil and the deep sea. Taliban will continue to attack our innocent civilians while we continue to fight a war that we’re not entirely sure is ours. We need to provide for all the people who are under the direct onslaught of this war: the common people of Pakistan.

The common man is deeply affected by the austere state of affairs and I’m putting it very mildly. The only things we see on television are footages of our metropolises being targeted. Our bazaars, mosques, schools, hospitals are burnt and blackened. The most common glimpses are paramedics rushing, women crying, bodies strewn, and bloodshed everywhere.

The psychological impact of living in a war-fighting zone (a new term that can be given to Pakistan, since we’re not war-torn as yet) is to learn to deal with the constant fear of losing someone close to you. It’s a dark, unknown, evil force that can attack you from anywhere, it can kill you and you have no idea how to deal with it. For a lot of Pakistanis, it’s an apocalypse they cannot run away from and they have no idea how to deal with it at all.

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