Mental health is a rising concern all around the world. People of some countries and parts of the world find it more difficult to come out and say that they are experiencing mental health concerns and issues. Especially in South Asian countries, there is significant shame and taboo associated with mental health and discussing mental health concerns. High levels of stigmatisation still exist in the South Asian communities. Despite Asia following a collectivistic culture as opposed to the individualistic culture like the western countries, mental health is considered a private matter and thus, is kept hush-hush.
There is still much stigma associated with anything and everything mental health in South Asia. Many individuals who have mental health concerns hide it and often never seek help. This hiding is usually to uphold the reputation and social status of the family as well as their own. Often, mental health concerns are labelled as weakness and making excuses, rather than addressing the problem, families in South Asia typically encourage its members to sweep it under the rug and never speak of it again. Or they tend to say that it’s all in the sufferer's head and that it’s nothing, normalising and neglecting the problem too much. One of the biggest problems that arise from this is that, later on, the person who has the mental health concern themselves may start to neglect the need to get help and ignore their issues, leading a miserable or subpar life without addressing the need to consult a professional. Additionally, a serious example of stigma is when a physician refers someone in a South Asian family to a mental health facility or professional, the first argument that arises is that their family member is not crazy. Mental health professionals and consultations have often been associated with ‘insane’ and ‘insanity’ that no one really understands what role they play in the general society.
The stigma on mental health is so concerning as the evidence of a family having a member with mental health struggles sometimes tends to cause the whole family to be considered tainted and not healthy. Such families and people often tend to be the target of vicious gossip and social ostracisation. Frequently, individuals with mental health problems are considered volatile and dangerous regardless of what the nature of the problem is.
It is quite concerning and embarrassing that, even in this 21st century, many households in South Asia believe that supernatural powers and supernatural occurrences are what causes mental health struggles. Many of the families in South Asia still prefer to consult folk practitioners and consult shamans and astrologers for management for mental health concerns their family members experience thinking that it is either a result of some negative energy at play or caused due to angering the god. At least one of your South Asian friends may have heard the statement ‘You feel that because you don’t go to church/ temple or pray’ when raising concerns regarding their mental health to their families.
Many South Asian households tend to neglect any sort of mental health issues that their members display. ‘It’s because you don’t drink enough water’ is one such way through which mental health concerns are dismissed. Unfortunately, such dismissals of concerns without a second thought causes many to keep everything bottled up until it is no longer bearable. Proper treatment is being denied in such cases as individuals who experience the discomfort and distress themselves tend to ignore the signs that they need help because they have never understood the importance of mental health or consider mental health concerns as a phase which when ignored, goes away on its own.
Individuals experiencing mental health in South Asian families often fear being found as having these concerns and tend to keep everything to themselves, often till a stage where they are unable to handle it. The stigma that is associated with mental health adversely affects the individuals’ beliefs about themselves and impacts their attitude toward themselves and self esteem. The fear that they will be labelled and stereotyped against in the society further causes these individuals to fear seeking much needed help. Additionally, in cases where the person seeks help or the existence of the mental health issue is acknowledged by the family of the person, there still exists the concern and possibility that this person will get blamed for contracting the disorder as well.
Despite the advancement in technology and availability of scientific information, there still remains much to be known regarding mental health in South Asian communities. The misinformation and misconception regarding mental health is only adding to the problem, causing people to avoid seeking help and often terrorising and harming individuals who seek help, even ostracising them to doing what is good for them.
Kaizen Wellbeing is an online therapy platform in Dubai, UAE that caters to South Asian community. There is a dearth of good therapy establishments that accommodate the mental health needs of the brown community. We aim to bridge that gap by providing you quality and affordable care by qualified and warm therapists. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or +971 50 961 8796 and book your first session towards understanding yourself and other’s better.
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