Friday, 20 April 2012

Mental Health in South Asian Communities

By definition the South Asian community is a group of countries i.e. India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangla- desh, Bhutan, Afghanistan Nepal, Maldives and Nikaba islands. Each country as well as sharing common borders they also share culture, social and historical similarities. This also accounts for people with mental problems.
In the sub-continent mental problems are seen as taboo, in other words mental problems are not spoken of. In the subcontinent, when a person has mental problems such as schizophrenia, depression or any other type, they are basically frowned upon or pushed under the carpet.
When people from the subcontinent like my family come to this country they bring their culture and history with them. This would also include social and religious stigmas like mental problems. For instance sometimes it is said that a person has mental problems because they have done something bad in their past life. So people with this condition tend to hide it. So what happens is that when they start have these attacks, or any other situations that occur, the families tend to have to deal with the situation by themselves and without any help from the outside.
If you look at non-Indian or Western culture, you will notice that they are more open and are able to deal with it the rest of the community. This is partly because they are in their home country. And when South Asians come to this country they feel that they are on a different planet and find it difficult to integrate into a western culture, or what is commonly known as culture shock. So what happens is that some people tend to create their own group of people that have the same cultural believes as they have from their countries. Hence they become a closed community with their traditional values and stigma. Rarely people who came to this coun- try during the 60’s and 70’s find it difficult to express their feelings. This is because they were mostly brought up with South Asian values, which in a way can be good, i.e. gives you your own unique identity and beliefs.
The children of immigrants, i.e. who were born around the 70’s and 80’s, that have grown up here find themselves in a “catch 22”. On one end you have the Asian culture i.e. tradition, religion, customs, music, films. And on the other end Western values that they might have experience such as relationships, making out etc. This might lead to people isolating them self from what is really happen- ing to them. This may include serious matters like extreme views, abuse, and the unable to deal with various behaviours within their family. All this builds up and what I call “an over flow” of emotions could lead to mental breakdowns, depressions, anxiety attacks, creating a barrier between themselves and “the rest of the world”, and many more. 
In some cases if this is not taken care of could lead to drug abuse, hate crimes, violence. And lead to mental health problems as I have mentioned.
If we want to deal with this as a society we may want to find ways of befriending people from various groups. What I mean is having people who work for various organisations but are from those cultural groups to deal with those issues. One factor could be to go to people and their family and explain the mental health problems. Another factor could be to teach the family and the people involved the way to cope with any events or “mental problems”. One last factor could be to “destigmatise” any mental problems. I am not sure but there might not be any type of befriending schemes for the Asian community.
On a lighter note, most young Asians who are very young second generation and third generations are finding it a bit easier to deal with mental problems. This is probably because they find fellow “brit-asian” or Asians from the subcontinent that have grown up here to go to for advice and support them. This article is just my opinion and not anyone elses.
Dev Chatterjea

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