Why is Sahar working on mental health issues affecting girls and women in Northern Afghanistan?

Mahsheed Mahjor

More than three decades of war and conflict  have not only damaged Afghanistan’s infrastructures, social, political and economical institutions, but have also damaged many of its people’s mental health. Although accurate data on mental health issues in Afghanistan does not exist, according to the recent data collected by World Health Organization  (WHO) “ more than a million Afghans suffer from depressive disorders while over 1.2 million suffer from anxiety disorders. Actual figures are likely to be much higher.” Moreover, mental health issues “could be one of the factors contributing to violence at community and household level.” Therefore, it is vital to not only understand the long-term intergenerational effect of mental health disorders, but also to take action. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) tiered pyramid  approach for mental health, “the majority of mental health care can be self-managed or managed by informal community mental health services.” We at Sahar are trying to create that “informal community” – to provide girls with opportunities to talk about mental health and its challenges.

Even though mental health issues are very prevalent in Afghan society, the discussion around this topic remains a taboo. Therefore, we at Sahar are taking a step towards sparking conversation and providing basic tools for the girls that we serve in Northern Afghanistan, to discuss issues of mental health. Our Early Marriage Prevention program (EMPP) was designed in 2015 to address the the dropout rate for middle school and high school Afghan girls. EMPP is a 23-day  after-school program designed for girls in grades 5 through 12. Our EMPP was originally designed with 12 modules. Each module covers a different topic, for instance the girls learn about their rights according to the Afghan laws and international human rights laws. We bring motivational female and male speakers to talk to the girls and highlight that they can achieve their goals and dreams with tenacity and perseverance. The speakers are lawyers, doctors, politicians, female police officers and university professors. Additionally, we have other engaging workshops for the girls that help them with their self-confidence as they continue to pursue their education.

The year 2018 marks the third year of our EMPP. Over these years the program has grown to be popular among the students and they feel comfortable to share their  feedback and highlight their needs. Therefore, the girls in our EMPP have requested a module about mental health issues. Given all the violence against women and girls on a daily basis in Afghanistan, the rate of women who suffer from mental health disorders is higher. This 13th module will enable girls to have conversation about mental health issues. The module is designed to create an informal safe space for girls to hold conversations about the issues that they most likely are not able to talk about with anyone else. Moreover, it highlights the urgency of the mental health issues and how to talk about topics such as depression and trauma. This module also familiarizes the students with coping methods such as art therapy. Here at Sahar, we hope that this will be small platform to fight the stigma that has surrounded this topic for way too long.



  • World Health Organization (WHO)
  • National Public Radio (NPR)
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  • The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank
  • Pajhwok Afghan News
  • The Guardian

Related Post