Finding hope

Covid19Mental HealthcareAfghanistan

Warning: mentions of suicide which some readers may find upsetting.

‘Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ (Isaiah 40:30-31)

Particularly in this time of global distress over Coronavirus, it’s easy to feel mounting fear and anxiety. Hope can seem a far off thing. It’s human. And it can be overwhelming.

People are not merely physical beings. Our response to pain, suffering and lack in the world isn’t enough if we address only material things. We fight poverty because people’s lives matter.

We fight suicide because it takes a life every 40 seconds. 

Death by hopelessness. An inability to see how things might ever get better. A feeling that we’ve lost control of the circumstances, and there is no way back. The underlying reasons may have different names, but on average it’s the cause of 1.4 per cent of deaths in the world each year. And the statistics rise in many of the areas where Tearfund works as conflict, disaster and poverty push people to their limits. 

As Christians, we know that there is hope. It doesn’t mean we don’t grow weary. Or face the same turmoil and mental battles as the rest of the world. It means that when there seems no way forward, only out, we have a hope to cling to that is not dependent on personal circumstances or the news. 

When there seems no way forward, only out, we have a hope to cling to that is not dependent on personal circumstances or the news.

When hope is gone
Taara* is 20. Still young. But had she not received counselling through Tearfund’s partner where she lives in Afghanistan, she may not have made it this far. 

Her childhood was difficult. At home, where she should have been safe, she faced discrimination and abuse – harsh treatment and beatings. By the age of 12, Taara was depressed and shutting herself off from people. Her mother wanted to send her to school, but her father said no. Then, he died. And without a provider in the home, this brought a new set of problems. There wasn’t enough money.

So the family decided to marry young Taara to her cousin. Taara didn’t want to be married to him and she knew that he didn’t want to marry her either. It seemed a whole life of being trapped and unwanted. She saw only one way of escape.

‘I ate poison many times to end my life,’ says Taara. ‘But I was taken to the clinic and I didn’t die… Another time I wanted to throw myself off a tall building to die, but I was prevented.’

‘Love always hopes…’
In the midst of her distress, a neighbour came to speak to Taara. This neighbour had attended an awareness session run by a mental health centre who is one of our partners. This was around mental health issues, including living with suicidal thoughts. She suggested that Taara visit them and speak with staff there who might be able to help. 

Taara refused. It seemed shameful to admit she might need help for a mental health issue. ‘I’m not mad!’, she thought.

Fortunately, Taara’s neighbour had been well equipped with information from our partner’s awareness session. She was able to help Taara to see that anyone can develop a mental health struggle when our environment puts strain on us, just as anyone can develop a physical illness. 

Taara, her mother and the neighbour went to the centre. 

Through counselling sessions and various other practical measures, Taara can see positive changes in her life. She says, ‘I feel better now. I feel that I am leaving my past and entering a new phase of life. Now I know that suicide is not the only or best option for the difficulties I face in my life’. 

‘I want to thank the volunteers [at the centre], the counsellors and the doctors for all their services helping me,’ she says. ‘For me, the mental health centre in our community is a very useful place that has changed my life. I believe it could change the life of many others.’

There is no shame in needing mental health support. It’s got nothing to do with ‘mad’. It’s got to do with finding the strength to take on what can feel like a very lonely and frightening battle. 

There is no shame in needing mental health support. It’s got nothing to do with ‘mad’. It’s got to do with finding the strength to take on what can feel like a very lonely and frightening battle.

No shame
Strong men struggle too.

Azfaar* is 45. Married and a father of four, he used to own his own small business. His wife describes how he used to be such an active and social person.

Then, the small shop which he used to run failed. He couldn’t find work and, desperate for a way to provide for his family, moved them to Iran to try there. Working conditions were difficult though, and the family returned to Afghanistan.

Poverty and some other challenging family situations combined  began to feel overwhelming for Azfaar. He became depressed and started to avoid others completely.

‘Azfaar was afraid of being in the community or at social gatherings,’ says his wife. ‘He did not like to go to relatives’ houses or parties. He didn’t like to speak with anyone...’.

At that time, Azfaar says he felt that life was meaningless. That he was not useful for his family, or even for himself. He felt as though he always wanted to be alone and face no one.

‘Many times, he wanted to kill himself,’ says his wife, ‘but we prevented him.’

Hope and a future
Mohammad*, a clinical psychologist working at our partner’s mental health programme, remembers the first time he met Azfaar. ‘He was visibly upset, and his voice, hands and feet were trembling,’ says Mohammad. ‘He had one of [our] brochures about anxiety in his hand and he told me that he had all the problems written in the brochure.’

Through counselling sessions, Azfaar says that he is now experiencing a new phase of life, without social anxiety. Also, with help from the programme and a loan from some relatives and neighbours, he has been able to restart his small shop. 

Azfaar says he is happy because he has new hope for the future. ‘I tell everyone who may have a mental health struggle to go to this centre for the mental health services because having a mental health problem is not shameful,’ he says. ‘I tell them my own experience – that I now see that... mental health problems are curable.’

As we follow Jesus where the need is greatest and share his love, we know that in him there is always hope. Whether it feels or looks like it or not. His love and peace are beyond context or understanding. As with any other illness or injury though, we don’t dismiss treatment just because we know that God can heal. Instead, we work, in love, to be his listening ear and supportive arms and to see hope and restoration where there is despair.

PLEASE PRAY

A prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

Tarryn Pegna