I was a medical doctor by training and I know that mental health problems are pretty common. However, I didn't really aware of how much it is prevalent in our society. And even when we talk about mental health, we talk about competition and failures or domestic abuses.
One day, I visited to a village in Thaton, which is two hours of driving from my city for a research. We had a focus group talking about their experiences of living in that area in the past. The area has been dominated by different armed groups at different times in decades and it was a battle field back in those days.
A woman sighed and started to talk about her childhood.
"I was walking along that road (pointing to south) with my friend and her uncle. We were running here and there as kids, and suddenly heard a loud noise. We docked to the side of the road and looked back. The uncle was on the ground and just dead. This is kind of life we passed through."
Although she didn't cry, her voice became a bit trembled before she stopped. As I approached her to give some water, I noticed that her hands were sweaty. This is PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
I have heard of many cases like that as a part of my work.
Some nights ago, I was lying in my bed. By the way, I live near a military compound. While I was lying there, I heard a loud noise and could not say what really is that noise but my hands became sweaty and my senses became alerted. I listened again hoping that it is not a gunshot.
Well, my logical mind is 99% sure that it is not a sound as such.
Even though I know that, my body tells me differently. My heart bounced faster and the hands become sweaty. I felt some coldness in my back. I felt confused that I have never felt like that before. What is going on?
The sounds stopped and the night went silent again. I was reflecting what was just happened. I was aware that my logical mind is telling me that this must be from a vehicle (which turn out to be true and they are now in the court) and I also have a scenario in my mind which is about an armed fight. I then realized that there is an ignored anxiety in my mind about war and conflict, silently sitting for a long time.
I am very lucky to be raised in a more peaceful area compared to many other people in the country. Even though I have never directly engaged in an armed fight, I can imagine what would be like for the people who had difficult childhood being raised in such areas.
We have 330 cities in Myanmar and one-third of them have engaged in armed conflict (reference: The Asia Foundation). This makes a huge portion of our population in Myanmar may have PTSD and other anxiety disorders. There are so many grievances which are not addressed in the society. Also as a peacebuilder, I also can feel that many of peacebuilders will have mental health issues too.
How big is this problem?
How deep is the issue?
What can we do to address this in the near future?
Peace is something not just lack of violence but the presence of security, safety and justice. How can we get there?
I don't have answers for all those. But I do know that we have a lot to do.