De-stigmatising mental health

November 29, 2022


Saima began her career as an intern at one of the leading mental health establishments in Balochistan, the Balochistan Institute of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences (BIPBS). In her relatively short but promising career, Ms. Naz has been associated with UNICEF, UNDP and SEHER.

Currently, she works as a Psychosocial Support Expert with UNDP’s Gender Desk in Quetta, leading the interventions on community-led mental health awareness and support for the most marginalized and at-risk groups in Balochistan.

This professional journey has, however, been marked by many challenges, trials, and tribulations. ‘I am originally from Zhob (a small town towards north-east of Quetta valley, near the Afghan border) and belong to the Gandapur, Pashtun tribe.’ Saima was very young when her family left Zhob for Dhadher and then for Quetta. The meagre opportunities forced her family to move from one town to the next in search of better economic prospects, they finally settled in the more urban and economically vibrant Quetta valley, when Saima was 3 years old. ‘My father had to support a family of seven members, and this was not easy at a time when Zhob’s agricultural economy was rapidly shrinking due to a lack of rain.’ Zhob is what is known as barani land (a term which refers to land that is dependent on rainwater for agricultural activity) and while the impact of climate change has reached an alarming proportion in recent years, the environmental degradation coupled with a lack of sustainable support and social security in areas like Zhob have altered the way of life for many, since decades ago.


‘Each area has a different culture and a different lifestyle and often it takes an effort to reconcile these differences. As we our from Zhob, where education for women is far less common as compared to Quetta, few women go on to have careers outside the house in a professional field. Normally in our family teaching is the only profession that is seen fit for a woman. There is very little awareness of and acceptance for working as a mental health professional, especially because this profession requires a lot of field work and field experience.’ Saima recounts how after she completed her bachelors, she accepted an internship offer without telling her family. ‘I was adamant on not wasting all that I had learnt during my studies. When BIPBS offered me an internship, I knew it was an opportunity that I had to avail.’


In retrospect she is glad to have taken that first brave step.

As is said, when you truly desire something, the entire universe conspires to help you achieve it. Saima’s excellent work ethics led to her being offered a full-time job and she decided to tell her family. ‘I do not know, where I got the courage from, but I knew I had to confront my fears and tell my family. So, one day I broke the news to them.’ Her family’s reaction was contrary to her fears. ‘I was mainly afraid of my brother and his opposition towards my ambition, but I was able to convey the honesty of my intention and satisfy his apprehensions. But my greatest supporter has been my mother. She has stood by me in some of the most challenging points and has been my ardent supporter. Honestly, her love and encouragement has kept me motivated’.

‘When I started working with UNDP and SEHER as a Psychosocial Therapist my work demanded more time in the field, since we were mainly engaging with local vulnerable communities. Before my family allowed this, they put a few conditions which I then relayed to my employer. I was provided the working conditions that suited me and so here I am several months later excited about the prospects the future holds for me.’ Saima is glad that working with UNDP has given her the opportunity to truly explore and focus on mental health challenges for the most vulnerable and marginalized especially working on psychosocial support. ‘Psychosocial support focuses on community-level engagement and its essentially a self-help tool for a society to deal with mental challenges, I think it’s absolutely crucial for our society, especially in Balochsitan’. She believes that the exposure that she has gained due to her key role as a psychosocial expert in this project has deepened her understanding on various aspects of mental health.

* * * 

Story by: Amna SyedHuman Rights Reporting Expert, Decentralization, Human Rights, & Local Governance Project, UNDP Pakistan