In a quiet corner of north-eastern Iran, a concerned mother shares the challenges her daughter faces as she grapples with sleep problems and profound anxiety that prevents her from using lifts.
This mother's testimony offers a glimpse of the ongoing mental health issues that many Iranian girls and women are going through, due to societal pressures and the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody eight months ago that triggered a protest movement demanding more freedoms and women's rights.
The woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, worries that her daughter might be interrogated by government officials over her decision not to wear a mandatory headscarf. This weighs heavily on her already burdened shoulders.
"What is the solution? My situation is not different from that of Nika Shakarami's and Mahsa's mother," she tells IranWire, referring to a 16-year-old girl who was killed by multiple baton blows during protests in Tehran on September.
"We must continue our journey despite the sadness and stress we carry," the mother adds.
The authorities have cracked down hard on the protest movement sparked by Amini's death on September 16, 2022. More than 520 people were killed during demonstrations and over 20,000 others were unlawfully detained, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
While the widespread demonstrations have cooled, many Iranian women and girls continue to defy the authorities by refusing to appear in public with the compulsory head covering.
Taraneh, a young woman residing in a small town in East Azarbaijan province, is one of them.
"The suffering and pressure we endure are unbearable," says Taraneh, which is a pseudonym. But she adds that she "draws strength from the memory of Amini's innocent eyes."
"Heightened Suffering, Anxiety and Depression"
According to a psychologist and counselor at a girls' school in an eastern Iranian province, an increasing number of students are now seeking help for symptoms of anxiety and depression.
"A notable effect observed in my clients is the emergence of heightened awareness following the Mahsa movement, which has lifted them from a state of semi-awareness and ignorance," the psychologist explains. "However, regrettably, in our cultural context, particularly in small towns, this newfound awareness has led to heightened suffering, frustration, and even cases of depression."
The psychologist tells the story of a young woman who recently sought assistance, torn between a desire for independence from her family and societal pressures.
"One of my clients, who married at a young age and previously attended a hairdressing class, initially acquiesced to her husband's request to give up her studies," she says.
"Exposure to the protests and witnessing the empowerment of women ignited conflicts within her marriage. She endured physical abuse and injuries inflicted by her own family and husband. In counseling sessions, we focus on fostering assertiveness skills and guiding her toward self-care and pursuit of her own aspirations."
Women Began to "Think and Live Differently"
Widespread reports of beatings, threats, arrest and deaths during the nationwide protests have left a lasting sense of insecurity among young girls, further intensifying their mental health problems.
Shahrazad Pourabdullah, an Iranian psychotherapist currently residing in the UK, says that with Amini's death, teenage girls in Iran have realized the risks they face as they grow up in a society that imposes restrictions on women.
But they have also realized that they can actively participate in social change and significantly impact society and family structures, she says, adding, "This newfound awareness has disrupted their previous state of relative comfort and tranquility."
Pourabdullah mentions the feeling of "disloyalty" among some girls who defy their families' wishes and participate in protests, worsening the already fragile state of their psyche.
"These girls were forced to challenge their families and break social structures that were meant to provide security. Consequently, tension and conflict within their families have become an added burden on these courageous individuals," the psychotherapist explains.
Pourabdullah views this as being part of a transformative process for Iranian girls and women.
"The shedding of old beliefs and societal expectations brings them closer to developing a new protective layer," she said. "This movement has had a profound impact on women and girls. Many women who once believed their situations were unchangeable have gone through events that proved otherwise. They have begun to think and live differently."
Pourabdullah underlines that the protest movement challenges patriarchal dominance over women and empowered them to redefine their expectations and independence.
"Transitioning to a new order can be unsettling and painful," she says, but women and girls possess the resilience to face the vicissitudes of life.
"There is room for hope and the opportunity to shape a better future," she adds.