It is amazingly tone-deaf that Pakistani authorities think that the best way to improve mental health in Pakistan is censorship and restricting freedom instead of actually investing in and reducing the stigma against mental healthcare.
The classic example of this is is the PUBG ban imposed by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). In its detailed order explaining why the ban would remain, the PTA claimed that the game negatively affects the mental health of players and linked it to incidents of suicide.
This is a flawed chain of causality at best and a blatant attempt at clamping down on freedom under the excuse of mental health at worst.
Mental health is a complex matter and to pin the deaths and trauma caused by it onto a video game is a classic Pakistani strategy of passing the blame. The reasons for poor mental health in the nation are countless but perhaps the biggest ones are the stigmatization of mental healthcare and the general poor quality of healthcare.
Individuals who take the initiative to improve their mental health often find that mental healthcare in Pakistan is in both low quantity and quality. Although there are many highly skilled and professional therapists, many are doing their jobs with poor qualifications and with the singular goal of making money.
On the off chance that one does find a skilled therapist, they then find themselves ostracized and looked down on by society, with the classic phrase “log kya kahain ge”. This is enough to demotivate anyone from pursuing an improvement in their mental health.
With a constant air of toxic masculinity often restricting boys from expressing their feelings, and a presence of unrealistic standards placed on girls they have to live up to in “rishtas” both genders find themselves suffering from poor mental health.
To blame a video game for this complex phenomenon is a poorly thought out strategy. While there is some limited evidence that video games may encourage violent behaviour, banning them is no solution. First of all, for every study that shows a link between video games and poor mental health, there is another that points out the team-bonding, stress-relieving and mood-boosting elements of video games.
Secondly, the very idea of banning something that may, perhaps lead to poor mental health sets a very dangerous precedent. Should, then, everything that is potentially, inconclusively proven to be bad for mental health be banned? What about the stress and anxiety-schooling system? Should that be banned too? And the unrelenting harsh working world in which individuals are expected to show up on a daily basis and work for several hours without any recompense like machines?
Thirdly, banning a video game, as mentioned, passes the blame. It makes the causes of poor mental health out to be video games and prevents introspection. How can Pakistani society be expected to look within and identify how they create circumstances which lead to depression and anxiety if they are encouraged to point the finger at video games and blame them?
What the government needs to instead do is invest in mental healthcare financially and develop its infrastructure, while working to combat the stigma. No progressive country resorts to censorship to solve its problems. The countries that do so are almost always the ones with poor human rights, a bad economy and a poor international reputation. That is not the kind of country anyone wants Pakistan to be.