Mental Health and the Spiritual Dimension of Human Life: A Point to Ponder

By Sharif Ullah

The rapid socio-economic transition in Gilgit-Baltistan is drastically transforming the value orientation of the individuals and the collective social perception of the generation old civic behavior, norms and practices. The ways for being competitive in economic prosperity are swiftly overshadowing the traditional values of personal wellbeing and collective social governance, deeply rooted in morality and spiritualism. Within the turmoil of this socio-economic transition, mental health is emerging as a major challenge which is significantly disconcerting the population both in terms of personal wellbeing and collective social order.

Just a few decades ago, the socio-economic life in Gilgit-Baltistan was far simpler than today. Despite diversity in terms of cultures, origins, traditions, and ethnicity, the society was experiencing a better social cohesion at collective level, and the individuals were living comparatively peaceful lives, though it was not economically lucrative.

Morality and spirituality were the dominant forces governing daily life and at times defining the parameters for social interactions. Individuals in the society were possessing a strong spiritual ‘Self’, having stronger faith in the contribution of divine forces in their everyday lives. Most of the successes and failures in life were also considered as part of fate and attributed to the will of divine forces. Similarly, successes were considered blessings by divine forces. This approach led to humility. Failures, in the past, were also considered as part of fate and the will of the heavenly powers. Therefore, it was irrational for the traditional thought to keep on worrying and upsetting for longer periods, as the locus of control was external.

People tended to restart their lives swiftly with fresh minds after each success and failure. The dominant aspect of their spiritual personality was helping them to have a cognitively peaceful life despite the hardships and adversaries faced by their physical personality.

The current socio-economic life has significantly deviated from the traditional living principles under the influence of growing market economy and technological developments. The individual behaviors and the norms of practices of the society at collective level, are predominantly navigated by the materialistic mindset and the values for being competitive to survive in the market economy at any cost. This social paradigm shift in civic life is steadily weakening the spiritual dimension of human personalities and moral bonding. In this extremely competitive socio-economic milieu, individuals are developing a tendency to ignore spiritual and moral standings for economic gains. Duality of values one set for saying, and one set for doing, are becoming the common norms for social and professional interaction in the society. In this kind of scenario, individuals are developing a pure materialistic outlook for life, attributing all successes and failures to their own self. The successes in life are considered joyful wins for personal capabilities and capacities whereas, the failures are purely attributed to the weakness of their personal talent. Hence, people are not only worried about their own failures deeming them personal talent deficiency but also concerned for the successes of the others as the competitors. To hide the reality of life, people are inclined towards status consciousness, exerting further pressure for living an expensive lifestyle for maintaining a cosmetic and artificial status.  This camouflaging of the reality on the one had significantly increased the living expenses and on the other hand adds more pressure on individual’ mind. This materialistic outlook towards life has ignited a turmoil and storm in individual mind to survive in this extremely economy-driven competitive life where everyone wants to supersede the others and be successful.

In this evolving market-oriented society, mental health related issues in Gilgit-Baltistan are glowing silently across the various age brackets of the population. The mounting pressure being exerted by this modern social order, on individual mind is resulting into various mental health issues ranging from mild irritative behavior in daily life to the extreme action of suicide. Some of the investigative journalists from Gilgit-Baltistan have made an appreciable effort within their personal resources to collect the individual records of suicide cases in the last few years.  According to these journalists the number of suicide cases are in hundreds however, this does not reflect the magnitude of the challenge as it reports only the hundreds of people who have taken this extreme option whereas, thousands are unknown who are down the ladder struggling with various kind of mental health problems that are growing steadily towards severity. The anecdotal records and small-scale studies have reported economic pressure as a cause of the suicide incidents. Therefore, it can be argued that the challenge of mental health emerged with the transformation of society from traditional agrarian to capitalist market economy and from moral and spiritual orientation to materialist positioning. Others may differ with this stance and argue that suicide incidents were also recorded in the past. Obviously, suicide cases were reported in the past however, the reasons were obvious, and the occurrence were mostly in particular situations. Also, the rate of incidence was very low as compared to the present-day situation. More importantly, mental health challenge is multi-dimensional, ranging from disruptive behaviors in daily life to the serious criminal acts therefore, it cannot be confined to the suicide incidents only.

 Nevertheless, the aim of this paper is not to compare the traditional and modern societies in this context and try to prove one as the better society, rather the aim is to invite the intelligentsia to explore and learn lessons from this transition phase of the society for mental health. We need to find answers to the critical questions like;

  1. What is the relationship and connection of mental health challenge with moral and spiritual dimension of human life?
  2. What are the proportions and correlations of mental health with spiritual dimension of human personality in this cultural context?
  3. What is the positive or negative role of spirituality and morality in incubating mental health issues in human mind?
  4. Can this aspect of human life be strengthened and used as a safeguard against mental health issues in the society?

Certainly, scientific, and imperial studies may find answers to these questions. Such studies will become the pioneering effort in the history of Gilgit-Baltistan, not only for investigating the challenge from an innovative standpoint but also to explore ways for meaningful and scientific interventions to combat the challenge before it is too late in this context.

The Author is a faculty member at Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development, Professional Development Center Gilgit

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