Mental Health in the South-Asian Community| Ameen's Canopy

Disclaimer - What is written in my blogs is from my own experience of the world with an addition of scientific evidences and references when needed

Each culture and ethnic group has it's own way of understanding #mentalhealth. Some are quite good at tackling mental health issues, whilst others are not so good at this. However there is one community I want to highlight in detail simply because I know about it quite well and being a product of this community gives me an insight into what it's like. I am referring to the South-Asian Community. So if you haven't guessed already, I am of #Pakistani descent. When it comes to the South-Asian community, there are many great things which come to mind about the culture such as the food, the family orientated mindset, the strong link with the mother land and so on, however mental health would not come under the list of what the South-Asian community does well unfortunately. Coming from an South-Asian background myself, I am very much aware of the taboo and stigma around mental health within South-Asian households and although I have not directly been misunderstood when it comes to mental health, I have friends and family members who have been.

Why is there such a strong mental health stigma within the South-Asian community?

This is a very good question, WHY is there such a huge stigma with regards to mental health in the South-Asian community? Well there are many reasons as to why we as a community struggle to tackle mental health issues among Asians but just to highlight the ones I feel are the most prominent are as follows:

Stuck in the old ways - Our parents and grandparents in general have been accustomed to a particular way of life, which includes inevitably a particular way of thinking which seems to quite clearly, not have much regard for mental health. Receiving new information for the older generation which disagrees with what they once believed was true, can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow. This brings me to the point regarding something called 'Confirmation Bias'. So this basically is when an individual receives information, they tend to interpret the information in their favour. So if you were to explain mental health to someone of the older generation within the South-Asian community, they may try and interpret what you said in a way which confirms what they believe, as opposed to what you are trying to tell them.

Pride - Yes, this is a very true one which does not only apply to the South-Asian community but lots of communities too. Many people are too proud to admit they have been wrong, because they feel this will impact their ego. However simply admitting you were wrong is actually a strength and it shows you are able to overcome a hurdle. So if people in the South-Asian community as well as other communities are being told they are wrong about their views on mental health, then they may decide to retaliate or defend themselves as if they are being attacked. So rather than understanding that they are being enlightened, they are letting their ego get in the way of accepting reality.

Lack of understanding - When a generation has been brought up with a particular mindset and viewpoint on a certain matter, it is hard for them to understand the reality of the situation because they have been brought up with a different one their whole life. For example, if you were always told that the colour orange is actually called green your whole life, if one day I told you the truth which is that it's called orange, you wouldn't understand how this can be and it would take a while to grasp the idea because it goes against everything you know. Just like that, some of our parents and lots of our grandparents have been brought up neglecting mental health and when telling them that they have viewed mental health wrong this whole time, it may take a while for them to understand this.

Blaming other things - Quite often in the South-Asian community (which is predominantly composed of Muslims), when mental health issues are addressed, straight away the family assumes it is because of Jinns and Black Magic. Being Muslim myself I understand this may be the case, however it's not as common as people make it out to be. It is more likely to be a mental health issue than a Jinn possession. I am not too sure why people jump to such extreme conclusions but sometimes it may be because the family are trying to shift the blame onto other things and away from themselves so that they are not blamed or don't feel accountable for the situation. Quite often mental issues can derive from abuse and neglect from childhood which has left the individual traumatised. If the parents and family are to be blame for this, they may use Black Magic and Jinns as a scapegoat and excuse to get away with it, shifting the blame elsewhere. Our communities need to be educated on these matters because simply shifting the blame onto other things is not addressing the issue, it's in fact making it worse and you are shoving it under the carpet, this helps no one.

Solutions -

Education - I feel that community centres, youth centres and religious places need to do more work on educating the public on mental health, especially in the South-Asian communtiy. Providing courses and services would bring much benefit and will enlighten a community with knowledge.

Changing our mindsets from within - Changing people's mindsets is certainly easy to say but practically implementing this is the tough part. Services can do their best to tackle the mental health stigma within the South-Asian community, however for it to make real and lasting impact, it has to start from home. So parents need to teach their children it's okay to speak about their emotions and feelings. Teaching children from a young age about such important topics can help the South-Asian community and society in general be more equipped to deal with mental health issues.

Don't judge - A lot of the reason why mental health issues are neglected in the South-Asian community is due to embarrassment and not wanting other people to know their son or daughter has a mental health issue. However I'm sure people wouldn't mind telling others they had a cough or cold which is a physical illness but as soon as mental illnesses are brought into the picture, families within the South-Asian community shy away from addressing it and instead they hide it. This problem can be tackled by helping families to understand what other people think about you or your family really isn't that important and your child's wellbeing should be your priority.

I hope this clears up some of the misconceptions which take place in the South-Asian community with regards to mental health. It was clear throughout the blog that I had addressed the elderly within the community such as parents and grandparents very often simply because most of the misunderstandings come from the old school mindset whilst generally speaking the new age children, teenagers and adults understand it a lot better due to the increasing prevalence of mental health awareness which is taking place by charities, schools, colleges, etc.

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