Lived experience: Dealing with mental health issues as a South Asian Person
Written by Sa’diyah Malik.
Disclaimer: The aim of this post is to share issues that I have personally experienced. It is not to be derogatory about any ethnic background. Of course, not all South Asian families or communities have taboos around mental health. However, if you can relate to anything discussed in this post – know you are not alone.
“Oh, you’re fine.”
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Just get over it.”
My all-time favourite: “We had it way worse”
And let us not forget: “What will people think?”
These are just a few words of invalidation heard from loved ones when talking about mental health.
For decades, mental health has carried a heavy stigma making it a topic rarely recognised or spoken about. The conversation of mental health is encouraged to be had in hushed whispers, or just kept to ourselves to prevent further heartache. It’s seen as shameful or embarrassing. This can prevent people from certain communities from speaking about their mental health and seeking help.
If I had a broken bone, would I be expected to keep it quiet? No, of course not. Mental health carries the same importance – just because it cannot be seen by the naked eye does not mean it matters any less.
Mental health often doesn’t get better until we talk about it and take action to improve it. But so many South Asian people feel like they can’t talk about it.
Many of my friends, or those from marginalised communities have admitted to finding it hard to say out loud that they’re struggling with their mental health, because of shame, or the fear that people will call them weak, or broken, or see them differently.
I remember one day suddenly feeling disconnected from the world around me, carrying this immense feeling of emptiness and loneliness. Everyday tasks like eating and showering felt impossible.
Growing up in a culture where mental health wasn’t discussed, I was unsure of what I was feeling and didn’t believe anyone else would understand, because I had simply never heard of anyone experiencing that.
We’ve all struggled with mental health issues, but older generations have refused to seek help from professional, which is why generational trauma exists.
Generational Trauma in the South Asian Community
Generational trauma is trauma that isn’t just experienced by one person—it extends from one generation to the next.
If your parents had a difficult childhood, they may learn patterns of behaviour from their parents which they will pass on to their children.
If your parents never spoke about mental health, or never learned healthy coping mechanisms, it’s unlikely that you learned good ways of expressing yourself either. It can be a difficult cycle to break.
According to Melanie English, a licensed clinical psychologist, generational trauma ‘can be silent, covert, and undefined, surfacing through nuances and inadvertently taught or implied throughout someone’s life from an early age onward.’
Generational trauma can be very difficult to deal with, or to even recognise. However, we are in a stronger position to tackle it than previous generations.
We understand what depression means and how mental health can impact our lives. We understand how not being heard can make things worse. Seeking help can prevent us from inflicting this pain on future generations.
How to break the cycle of generational trauma
We can break down the barriers that are preventing us from accessing mental health care for those from marginalised communities. Here are just some of the options available to get support:
Access therapy from a charity or private therapist. Some people prefer to talk to someone who they relate to. The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network has therapists from Black, African, Asian and Caribbean Heritage. There also might be local charities, support groups, and online support forums you can join.
Find online resources, accounts, and experiences to learn from
It’s easier than ever to learn from the comfort of home. There are videos, articles, accounts, and blogs all dedicated to examining mental health through a cultural lens. @browngirltherapy is one such space where many people have found understanding.
This seminar, No One Can See Me Cry, examines the impact of negotiating racial inequality and discrimination at university and the impact upon mental health.
Connect with the community
Any issue is easier to deal with when you don’t feel alone. Connecting with people in similar positions to you, whether they’re friends, colleagues, or people you meet through research or therapy, can help you feel understood and heard, as they know what you’re going through.
Speaking about mental health with friends and colleagues
Speaking of connecting with the community, one of the best ways we can begin to learn, heal, and grow in terms of mental health is to speak to people with similar experiences.
Being brave enough to speak about mental health with others in the community helps us all. It sets an example, and shows that we all experience difficult emotions, go through difficult times, and don’t always handle it perfectly.
That authenticity, that vulnerability, is key to connection, and can help build bridges in our community and beyond.
Society has historically viewed mental illness as a sign of weakness, something that should be powered through, and kept quiet. These stigmas still exist today, damaging lives; and we need to speak up against them.
Sign up for our Newsletter
Sign up here for our monthly newsletter of mental health tips and advice, as well as to know what we’re up to.
We have newsletters for adults, children and young people, parents, and education staff.
Posted on: 6th January 2023