Not a single day goes by that Shanaj Sultana does not cry. Whenever she stays alone, her bad experience from the past keeps on flashing in her mind. She feels anxious and screams at her children for no good reason.
In 2017, she parted ways with her husband after 19 years of marriage. Since then, she has been struggling with herself and society to bring up her three children.
The 47-year-old single mother is now living with depression, which stems from her struggling life, to fulfil all family obligations amid financial stress.
Like Shahnaj, over 54 percent of single mothers go through various mental difficulties such as workload, social humiliation and financial stress, according to research conducted by the psychiatry department of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
Shanaj, a college teacher, left her husband when she came to know about his extramarital affairs. After the divorce, her husband went for a second marriage. It was left to Shanaj to take up the responsibility of raising her children.
But soon after her separation from her husband, she started feeling exhausted, isolated and emotionally drained, as doing it all by herself was proving to be very difficult.
As far as her family responsibility is concerned, Shanaj is unyielding. But she is not psychologically well as at times she loses her temper over a trifle and screams at her children, said her close relatives.
"I will definitely make my children well-educated and good human beings," said a confident Shanaj in an emotional voice.
The research, titled "Depressive and anxiety disorders among single mothers in Dhaka city," was made public at the first scientific congress on non-communicable diseases held in October this year.
Jhunu Shamsun Nahar, professor of Psychiatry at the BSMMU, did the study to know about the mental conditions of single mothers in Dhaka city.
The research was carried out on 156 single mothers, based on their socio-economic conditions, to identify the prevalence of depression, anxiety and mental disorder. The study commenced in August 2016 and concluded in July in 2017.
According to the report, 21.20 percent of married women got separated for husband's extramarital affairs, second marriage and physical torture, 34.60 percent for divorce and 44.2 percent stay with their children after the demise of their husbands.
Of the single mothers, 44.3 percent are job holders, 17.3 percent housewives, 17.3 percent housemaids, 8.3 percent unemployed and 12.8 percent are in other sectors.
Psychiatrist Jhunu Shamsun Nahar said, "All they [single mothers] need is mental and financial support. Their close relatives, families and the government have to come forward for ensuring it."
After leaving their husbands because of mental torture and physical violence, single mothers think they have got relief. But in reality, at one stage they become exhausted by repeatedly trying to strike a balance between job and child rearing, the report said.
Some of them have a tendency of becoming tense over simple matters. They face extra pressure as they have to perform the roles of fathers too.
Some 68 percent of them feel mental pressure owing to extra work, 67 percent for economic stress and 35 percent because of social humiliation.
Some 17 percent of single mothers suffer from major depressive disorder, 10 percent from dysthymia, 24 percent from anxiety, 9 percent from social phobia, 6 percent from panic disorder and 14 percent from generalised anxiety disorder.
The number of single mothers has been increasing because of divorce, deaths of husbands and husbands living abroad. In 2018, the number of widowed, divorced and separated women rose to 10.8 percent from 9.1 percent in 2014, according to a report of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Experts have noted that single mothers are suffering from loneliness, depression and isolation all over the world. They also have a sense of insecurity and economic uncertainty. They keep themselves away from social activities as well. In fact, they become mental wrecks.
Similarly, in Bangladesh, single mothers go through trauma and face financial crises. Besides, they are always worried about their children and that affects their work, they added.
Dr ASM Amanullah, Professor of Sociology Department at Dhaka University, told The Business Standard, "Single mothers in our country suffer from social, mental, economic and cultural problems."
He suggested that the government take an initiative for introducing various social benefit packages for childcare at the organisations where single mothers work.
A hotline has to be launched to provide counselling to single mothers, Dr ASM Amanullah said, adding that they should be given preference when they go for any service.
He also proposed forming a cultural support association for single mothers in the country to allow them raise their demands through it.