What is mental health? And how does it affect the Asian community?
Coming from an Asian (Indian subcontinent) background I have realised that in our community, mental health is either ignored or considered to be Jinn possession or the evil eye. From an Islamic background we do believe that spiritual beings do exist and can attack a person’s mental wellbeing, but that’s not what we are discussing here.
Almost every time anyone comes across someone in our culture/background who is suffering from mental health issues, it is obvious that their family finds it difficult to acknowledge that there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. The first instinct is to avoid the shame of it becoming local gossip.
Three Types of Asians
In the Asian community we have three types of people in relation to mental health. Firstly, the Westernised Asian, who was born and raised in the UK and is somewhat aware of mental health issues and when to seek help. We aren’t focussing on this type.
The other two types of Asians are less Western and have more of a cultural/ traditional way of living.
One type has an understanding of mental health issues, but is more concerned about the humiliation and gossip that will arise from revealing a relative’s mental health problems.
Another type has no knowledge of mental health issues and will make every effort to conceal and disguise a relative’s mental health problems.
Both of these types have the same problem. They are more concerned about community gossip and the shame that comes from having a relative with a mental illness. They will make every effort to hide it.
Don’t even get me started on the aunties and uncles and the neighbours who peek through their windows looking for the latest gossip.
In such a situation, people who are closest to you are the ones who are in denial and unwilling to accept reality.
Therefore, getting help and the right kind of support is delayed, resulting in the unwell person suffering unnecessarily.
Mental health is not just one issue, it is vast, the extent of which is unknown. It manifests itself in many ways. Some turn to drugs, others look for validation and acceptance from anyone and are preyed upon by extremists and paedophiles.
Mental Health really needs to be taken seriously. Rather than accept that their relative is suffering from a mental illness, our community passes it off as “he’s a junkie”, “he’s an extremist” “he’s a criminal”
This all stems from the same problem. There is an immense lack of knowledge about mental illness. Our communities need to be educated so they can accept the problem rather than hide it. We can’t start to provide support until we understand what the problem is.
Labelled by Western Society
Western society has taken huge steps in mental health awareness but we, the Asian community have not, we have allowed western society to label us and to label our children as problematic, criminals, junkies or in recent times – terrorists.
It enrages me that only the Asian community has to face this kind of treatment. Do we ask ourselves why our community is falling apart? Do we ask ourselves why other cultures get away with labelling us?… because we allow it to happen by refusing to grow in knowledge and due to clutching on to centuries old cultural norms.
In this world, most people have one thing or another they are struggling with.
Most of us have the capacity to cope with the issues we are faced with on a daily basis. We are able to deal with thoughts, whispers in our ‘head’ but, for some, this is not the case and the reality is tough.Many are battling daily just to have a normal day, to feel loved, to feel needed, to feel wanted, to feel accepted, to feel heard, to feel important.
Good mental health is having psychological and emotional well being; mental illness is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Once it takes hold, it is very difficult to feel like you are in control.
Not having the power to control even your own thoughts gradually swallows you up and you surrender. It’s a constant war with one’s self.
We need to come together, unite and tackle this problem. We need to have open discussions and form a rigid plan to educate and support our communities, we need to stop burying our heads in the sand and face reality. This requires attention and dedication and it is our duty to work as a community and support one another.