Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Student researcher studies mental illness in Pakistan
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
Sumeera Younis, a recent graduate who majored in women’s studies and sociology, traveled to Pakistan in early November to examine the country’s mental institutions as part of the Undergraduate Student Research Scholar program.
Younis’ research, entitled “Human Landfills – A Nation’s Shame: An In-Depth Look at the State of Pakistan’s Mental Institutions,” dealt with mental illness, something she has been interested in for quite some time. After reading a magazine article about the mental health epidemic in Southeast Asia and the Middle Eastern regions, she decided to explore the topic for herself.
Focusing on Pakistan, Younis traveled to the country for a two-month research project that gave her a bigger perspective than just insight into the mental health system of the country. As part of her research, she studied and interviewed those going into the mental health care profession, mental health professionals and the general public to get their views and attitudes on mental illness.
She found her initial hypotheses about the mental illness system in Pakistan was wrong. Younis had set out to expose the inhumane and unjust treatment of mental patients, but found things were changing.
“There’s been a lot of progress in Pakistan. Now they are looking at mental illness as more of a disease,” she said.
However, there is still a shortage of doctors in Pakistan so the research that is prevalent in the United States and other countries is lacking, said Younis, adding that there also is a stigma attached to mental illness, and up until recently, people thought they could be contaminated by those who suffered from it.
Younis didn’t just randomly choose Pakistan, she chose it because of her history with it.
“I lived in Pakistan and I know the language,” said Younis, who left Pakistan at the age of 5.
Her familiarity with the country and the language along with her Pakistani roots made it easier for people to open up to her. She also chose the country because it’s a good model for studying the traditional and modern medicine split.
Younis traveled to the village she lived in and the experience made her appreciate what she has been able to accomplish.
“I have cousins in Pakistan who don’t have the opportunities I do,” she said.
The research in Pakistan is the first fieldwork Younis has done. She said she learned so much from doing the hands-on research including writing grants and attempting to get her work published.
Jo Reger, Younis’ faculty mentor for the project and assistant professor of sociology, said she supported the project not just because of the topic, but also because she knew that Younis was a high-quality student who would prosper from serious research.
“Every student I’ve ever worked with has learned so much from conducting research,” said Reger, adding research was especially useful to students who intend to continue their education like Younis. “This project is going to help her accomplish so many of her goals.”
The funding for the research came from the Undergraduate Student Research Scholar Program through the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost’s Office. Undergraduate student research scholars receive $1,000 to support a research project for a minimum of one semester under the supervision of an Oakland University faculty mentor Participants also may request up to an additional $500 for research supplies or for travel support to present research results at a professional conference.
Younis, who graduated May 7, plans to go to law school at the University of Minnesota after getting married this spring. She would like to work in international development and as a human rights activist for women and children in third world countries.
“They have seen so much internal conflict in their countries with psychological ramifications that can be helped. With access to help, they could deal with it,” Younis said. “I’ve been blessed to have the drive to pursue my education, and now I have the chance to be over there helping. I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t. I have the potential to help people.”
For more information on the Undergraduate Student Research Scholar Program, visit the Web site.