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Unpacking Stigma and Breaking Barriers: Mental Health in the South Asian Community

16 Mar 2021 12:43 PM | Anonymous

by Tharegha Manoharan

On March 6th, Mrs. Usha Verma, Mr. Sathvik Sethi, Dr. Kamolika Roy, and Dr. Uma Chandrika Millner, mental health professionals and community advocates, joined Ms. Shubh Agrawal and Ms. Achint Singh in a conversation about mental health in South Asian communities.

In many South Asian families, there is a common preconception that mental health is “not a problem” or their children were “just seeking attention”.  Despite the diversity of Indian cultures, the close-knit Indian community that is based on long lasting relationships places significant importance on societal opinions and undue emphasis on societal acceptance. As a result, when children approach their parents needing help, some parents feel fearful and are ashamed about what society might have to say. This idea of collectivism — or the practice of giving priority to a group over an individual forms the basis of stereotypes.

Many families have moved to America in search of a brighter, better future for their children and next generations. Most have worked hard and sacrificed a lot to build a better life. So, when a child tells a parent about problems they are facing, some parents feel guilty about being inadequate providers. They wonder why their child is suffering despite what they have.

Although there might be many reasons as to why one might go through stress, depression or anxiety, the pressure to succeed is much higher among the South Asian community. Because our parents may have worked really hard to get to where they are today, youngsters feel stressed about living up to those high standards. While the stereotype of South Asian students might be as “nerds'' or high achievers, that becomes a problem when society always expects you to fit that role.

One important thing that everyone must not fail to understand is that you don’t need to be the best to be successful. You can have many flaws as we are human beings after all. But how you overcome your fears, how you treat friends and family will really determine what kind of person you are.

In addition, there is a danger that people brought up in this culture think that “I need to tolerate suffering” or “I can’t change my circumstances” or “Someone else is having it worse, so I shouldn’t get help.” These are all dangerous mindsets.

Unfortunately, there is also talk of invalidation when we seek help. In India, mental health might automatically mean going “crazy”. This might also be a reason for why South Asian parents might not be comfortable talking about these things. They might feel shame or guilt for their child’s thoughts. They might even tell their child that their feeling is “wrong”.

Since mental health is not widely discussed in India, there is a good chance that parents genuinely do not know what to do in such situations. Seminars, like this one, are important as they encourage conversation within families. Normalizing talk about mental health should make people feel comfortable talking about it.

Coming from India, we also sometimes fail to acknowledge that our culture, our religion, and our spirituality provides several solutions. The best therapy may be culturally congruent. By talking to people in our culture and religion may help in positive ways and lessen the likelihood of dropping out. Most importantly, by not addressing the issue, things could worsen and impact other aspects of your life. 

As a community, we need to normalize situations and conversations around mental health. If we have a problem with our body, we find a doctor to help us out. We should treat mental health the same as finding a doctor if we have a problem with our thoughts and feelings. One must teach that there are no reasons or situations not to ask for help. The point of family and friends is to provide support for each other through tough times. If we are afraid of talking to our own family, then that defeats the purpose.

You can click here to read a poem about this issue, Happy and Kind, by the author. 

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