Is Being Single the Only Cause of Depression Among Pakistani Women

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“Why don’t you think about getting married,” asks my shrink when I visit her after experiencing instability in my health.

Her question makes me stare at her in bewilderment. Not even once had I thought that being single could be a cause of my depression. Despite the fact that I am taking anti-depressants for the last few years, I do feel instability quite often.

I tell my psychiatrist that I am in fact going to get married soon. She smiles and says this is great news. “Are you not feeling excited about this positive change in your life,” she asks. I reply that I am rather anxious.

But I am not the only woman who has been asked such questions by their shrink in Pakistan. Women are often advised to consider marriage as a solution to their sadness.

Saira Hatim*, a 32-year-old teacher, was also asked by her psychologist if she was married. Upon saying no, she was advised to consider tying the knot. “A healthy relationship can be a positive change in life, said my therapist and added that a lot of girls are depressed because they are single,” says Hatim.

In contrast to what a shrink may believe, data shows more women suffer from anxiety and depression than men in Pakistan and married women make a higher percentage of this data. It is also pertinent to note that those who suffer from clinical depression struggle to figure out the root cause behind their depression.

From my personal experience, I can say that I have failed to find the answer. I have everything in life, a good family and a job that pays the bills and a passion that I keep alive through writing. But I don’t think my status as a single woman contributes to my illness. Simply put, you cannot miss something that you’ve never had.

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Consultant psychiatrist at The Recovery House, Dr Nazila Bano Khalid also says that in Pakistan being unmarried isn’t detrimental or the only cause of depression.

“A lot of female patients come to me and I try to figure out if marriage is a stressor for them but we cannot say being single is the cause of depression,” she explains. She goes on to elaborate that getting married can also be a stressor and can cause anxiety.

“There is no denying that having a good life partner is good for your mental health but it is a perception in our society that people enjoy more respect after they get married,” she says.

However, on the other hand, one of the reasons for stress among women, says Dr Khalid, is the lack of awareness about one’s sexual rights. A topic still considered a taboo. “Women aren’t expressive about their sexual desires and many of them, even after tying the knot, are unaware of their sexual rights,” she adds.

Karachi-based Psychologist Naheed Khan agrees with Dr Khalid. She says that in any society being single could be one of the stressors but one cannot say it’s the main cause.

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“Marriage is about companionship and ideally it should provide emotional support, particularly when one is going through a tough time,” says Khan. But, she clarifies, marriage cannot be considered a solution to all problems.

“In fact, men and women need to be mentally healthy to take up the challenges and responsibilities that come with marriage,” she says. Talking about sexual relationship, Khan believes that if it is based on love and friendship it can help relieve stress, otherwise it would be a source of stress in itself.

While a therapist should ideally hold an objective view to each client’s condition, biases unfortunately creep in when a single woman is suffering from depression or anxiety. We have been conditioned to believe that marriage is a solution to our problems but the idea has only proven to be damaging to a significant number of Pakistani women’s self-worth.

And it’s time that this mindset changes, especially that of a professional expected to help you.

*The name has been changed to protect privacy.

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