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Cambridge exam stress and quarantine led 7 friends to create a therapy group to counsel each other

Cambridge exam stress and quarantine led 7 friends to create a therapy group to counsel each other

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Psych Central is a student-led initiative that aims to put forth its views in meaningful, lighthearted conversations regarding mental health in a way that is as relatable as possible.

Stress became our companion at the very beginning of O-levels. As academic years progressed, it piled on and invited its little friend anxiety into our lives by the time final year of O levels rolled around. Then we entered A levels, in one of Lahore’s most prestigious and competitive schooling environments, and these feelings of stress and anxiety only escalated. Every other day some worry piled on top of the other: I had a friend faint during an exam, another had an anxiety attack, and I was also a witness to many other meltdowns over time. 

There came a point when it became clear that what we saw and how we felt should not be disregarded or brushed off just because it’s commonplace for students to feel this much pressure at such crucial moments in our academic years. No – the burden we undertook was heavy and the weight with which it slowly yet surely brought us down needed to be dealt with. Eventually, my group of friends and I took it upon ourselves to hold ‘talking’ sessions where we occasionally expressed our feelings about the problems that bothered us. These little sessions relieved our heavy hearts and soon the ‘jolly’ and ‘lively’ aspects of us started returning bit by bit. 

Of course, the world had something else planned: in March we entered lockdown in our houses for an indefinite period of time. With our sleep cycles messed up, a persistent bubble of uneasiness grew inside our chests; the usual ‘desi’ household squabbles became more intense, the twitching feeling of guilt due to lesser time spent productively heightened, and the uncertainty of our future caused our hearts to migrate to our throats. Our group chats died – even though everyone was still a text away, it seemed like no one was actually there for us. But soon we realized we aren’t alone in this. Our friends were going through the exact same thing, just a slightly different version. We got on call and like usual times, we laughed our troubles away. We came up with the idea of Psych Central – a platform where we could do the same thing we did in private, except with the aim to help more people than just our little group of friends. 

As young girls of this generation, we recognise mental health deterioration much more effectively than our parents and grandparents do. We know of the significant generation gap between us and our parents which, perhaps, provides the biggest hurdle for them when it comes to understanding our thought processes and emotions. We understand the harsh dynamics of today’s world because we’ve lived it every day of our lives. We acknowledge that given the stigma around mental health in Pakistan, we probably wouldn’t have made it this far if we didn’t have our group of friends to support us. And not every other friend group out there has the same support system. That is when we realized we need to branch out: we’ve done so much for each other, what’s to stop us from doing more for others out there? We are not only aware of the challenges; we’ve lived those challenges. And that’s what makes us the best group of people to be able to spread awareness about this.

We started our series off with a game of Never Have I Ever where we opened up about our personal experiences regarding our emotional well being and soon enough, we progressed to hosting psychologists and well-known activists for more informative conversations. We plan to expand our reach by employing psychologists in our school so we can make professional help more accessible. We want to implement mental health workshops for students and teachers across the nation so that our school environment becomes more friendly. We hope that the efforts we make contribute to creating a more positive way of speaking about mental health – instead of the taboo it currently battles. From the first minute we hit record, we hoped to enable a new wave of discussion centred on making it easier for people to unburden themselves from their problems. After all, talking is the first step towards recovery.


This is a submission written by Hamnah Naveed, one of the founders of this mental health initiative. You can also submit your piece here: propergaanda@gmail.com.