By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)
The experts in the field of medicine, business, the arts, and social policy highlighted a range of strategies to build peace and stability in Pakistan on the final day of the National Health Sciences Research Symposium, the Aga Khan University’s annual event on November 6.
Creative arts play a vital role in human development, from rehabilitative treatments for post traumatic stress disorder after violent incidents to programmes to treat mental illnesses noted Dr Saad Shafqat, Professor of Neurology at AKU while moderating the session on Art, Music, Literature and the Mind.
Actor and social worker Nadia Jamil described the performing arts as being one of the most empowering tools for social change. She explained how many societies were able to create powerful narratives that enabled them to unite their people and progress.
“I wish more Muslim societies picked up the pen rather than the sword in order to change the world around us. Art helps us connect with other people’s experiences and nurtures empathy. It makes us remember what came before us and enables us to spread positive messages for social good,” she added.
Nigeria-based psychiatrist Olayinka Omigbodun agreed about the idea of art for change. Television and theatre plays can be used to confront long standing traditions and stigmas in society and noted that the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is beginning to play an important role in shaping perceptions about mental health.
Jamal Shah, actor and director, while also talking about art as a vital outlet for society, spoke about how on an individual level each person faced inherent loneliness. Only by embarking on a creative journey can one fill this void and as one becomes self-aware the creativity that results can have an impact on the community and the world around them.
In another session on Mindfulness, Spirituality and the Human Condition, mental health experts discussed how to heal wounds in society. David Arthur, Dean of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at AKU, spoke of the soothing impact that spirituality can have on the soul.
Dr Arthur mentioned that techniques such as mindfulness, the practice of making oneself aware of the present instead of being worried about the past and the future, can be very beneficial.
“Don’t always be in a hurry. Be interested in every interaction and truly live in the moment. When you do this you’ll notice that everything you do is more enriching. We should all focus on experiencing the moment,” he observed.
Consultant psychiatrist Sarah Eager, from the UK, agreed with Dr Arthur and mentioned the negative influence of stress in society on our individual well being.
“We should try to return to the silence and peace prior to the stressful moment. People also tend to be very critical of themselves and others which is very harmful to society. Instead we should focus on being compassionate to ourselves and each other,” she remarked.
In the session on Psychopathology of Violence and Terrorism, Dr Murad Khan, Professor of Psychiatry at AKU and moderator of the session, noted that violent incidents and terrorist attacks in Pakistan has led to many people being exposed to trauma and many families having to cope with the consequences of violence with little recourse to help.
Social activist Jibran Nasir noted that Pakistani society, over time, has become more violent and intolerant. Conflicts over political ideology, religious doctrine and regional separatism have spilled over into public space with the result that people have become increasingly concerned about their own safety and more indifferent to the plight of others.
He stressed the importance of speaking out against injustice and of continuing the mission of those who had been silenced by violence. When asked whether everyone should pursue political change through activism, he replied:
“Be a good citizen first by paying your taxes and by abiding by the law. There is room for everyone to contribute to society but remember that society needs all kinds of people to prosper. Everyone shouldn’t aspire to becoming a political activist but they should do as much as they can to improve what is around them.”
At the conclusion of the conference, Dr Ayesha Mian, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at AKU said: “We’ve brought together experts from around the world to share their scientific and medical expertise. Sessions throughout the conference have led to new ideas and much excitement about the field of neuroscience which is important not only to every person’s health but has insights that can impact society as a whole.”