My experience of attitudes towards mental health in South Asian communities
October 20, 2016
What have you got to be depressed about?
When I think about the reaction from my community when I was going through mental illness, the sole emotion it evokes is abandonment.
I tend not to stereotype as it goes against my belief system. But I am happy to discuss issues I faced in the South Asian community with mental illness, as after further investigation I can see that it is a culturally wide problem and not branch-specific to my family tree.
Monty Panesar, England Spinner recently opened up about his own experiences with mental illness. Bless Monty, I rate him for coming out – it could not have been easy…
When I think about the perception I received from my community when I was going through mental illness, the sole emotion it evokes is abandonment. These are some of the mental mockeries I received:
“Stressed? How have the older generation coped? They worked hard and they were fine.”
“Yeah! I had a cousin once who had depression and committed suicide. He was never right really. We stopped talking to him because he was acting weird.”
“Depression? What have you got to be depressed about?”
“Have you seen so and so? He looks so unhappy, I bet he’s not making much money.”
“Have you thought about your children?”
Such are the aspirations of our community to achieve status and wealth through a hard work ethic that they leave no respite for those who become ‘infected with the invisible illness’. The pressure which the community creates is a breeding ground for mental health problems and now with my increased awareness and detection abilities I can see that so many of us are suffering in silence.
If someone injured their leg while working long days and was walking around on crutches then there would be sympathy from the community. They would receive emotional support and the necessary empathy as a mark of respect for overworking. However, if someone had a mental breakdown it would be perceived as weakness and they would be deemed a failure.
This is not to say the whole South Asian community would react in this way but certainly, because of the lack of available information and the historical treatment of mentally ill people back home, there would be a majority dismissal of the poor soul going through the illness – they would be treated as a failure rather than as someone who’s unwell.
I have learned, from listening to the many stories of my grandfather, that less than 30 years ago in rural villages of Punjab, mental illness was deemed demonic possession and the product of witchcraft. This would explain why the first generation that arrived here would be so fearful of the mention of it within their family.
We as second and third generation Indian’s owe it to our ancestors and each other to tackle the taboo and to educate those who may have this perception. The reason I feel so strongly is because I have experienced it first hand, and through core beliefs embedded in my culture I found the strength to overcome it.
We are a great community when we play to our strengths and this is a problem which will not just go away. The more people who can be comfortable to talk about it, seek the necessary help and treat others well, the greater the future for us. These are not modern day problems but there are solutions and the necessary support out there, in our own communities.
It’s time to end the taboo.
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