Over the past year, mental health professionals have witnessed an increase in self-harm and suicidal thoughts among Iranian teenagers.
According to psychologist Shahla Basteh-Hosseini, the reasons for this concerning trend include hopelessness, poverty and family problems such as parental divorce.
She notes that teenagers often compare their situation to those of their peers, leading to a feeling of despair.
"In recent months, I have counseled numerous teenagers who recently immigrated to Canada with their families from Iran. Based on my field investigations and the information gathered from these young patients, a significant portion of their classmates, peers and friends in Iran engage in self-harm and self-injurious behaviors," Basteh-Hosseini says.
Fereshteh, which is a pseudonym, is specialized in the treatment of children and adolescents in Iran. She says that many young people in the country face a range of mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety and loneliness.
Fereshteh says self-mutilation has been prevalent among Iranian teenagers for some time, but self-injurious behaviors among youth are more severe and prevalent today.
She draws attention to the lack of adequate attention to the teenagers’ mental health needs.
She emphasizes the need for comprehensive data on the subject, particularly regarding the age groups most affected, and for the creation of an effective support system.
Basteh-Hosseini says many of the teenagers she has seen have not received any support after witnessing the suicide of a classmate or experiencing suicidal thoughts themselves.
According to a 2022 study, a staggering 30 percent of the Iranian population either suffers from or is at risk of developing a mental health disorder.
Ali Nazeri, secretary of the 39th Congress of Psychiatrists of Iran, reported that the number of people diagnosed with depression in Iran had doubled in the past 26 years.
Iran has faced severe shortages of trained mental health professionals and medical equipment, as well as a lack of adequate mental health services.
Moreover, comprehensive mental health education is absent and mental health services are not covered by insurance, leaving patients at the mercy of therapists' unregulated fees.
Fereshteh points to the Welfare Organization as the primary entity responsible for this dramatic situation.
She laments the inadequate attention paid by the organization to teenagers, both in terms of prevention and provision of mental health and social welfare services.
The expert highlights the effectiveness of mobile applications through which teenagers can theoretically receive instant support through hotlines and track their daily moods and feelings.
Instead of focusing on teenagers’ needs, the Islamic Republic engages in religious indoctrination, Fereshteh says, while school curricula neglect the mental well-being of children and adolescents.
She also notes the scarcity of reputable private institutions and organizations dedicated to adolescents’ mental health and the absence of a national movement to raise awareness about suicide.
Fereshteh, which has extensive experience working with non-governmental organizations, says that teenagers often do not provide explicit reasons for self-harm or suicidal ideation.
However, she says: "In my experience, most of the teenagers who engage in self-harm are those embroiled in family disputes or have experienced domestic violence."
A journalist we have chosen to call Maryam highlights the impact of social discrimination on the mental health of Iranian teenagers.
The rapid accumulation of wealth by some families can lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness among teenagers in families financially struggling despite years of hard work.
"The ability of some families to secure lucrative jobs, income and even properties abroad thanks to government connections creates a deep sense of disillusionment among teenagers from ordinary families," Maryam says. "Despite their best efforts, they see no bright prospects for their future.”