The Stigma against Mental Health in the South Asian Communities

The stigma of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression in the South Asian communities really needs to end. We need to break the silence. Mental illness in the South Asian cultures is seen as something to be ashamed of, hidden from family, friends and the community. Leaving individuals feeling isolated and preventing them from accessing help. From day one we are told what is expected from us the ‘norms’ go to school, do well academically, go to university, get married, have children, the main goal in life, is stability and financial security. These are key to maintaining respect and ‘honour’. I guess ‘Mental Illness falls outside of these ‘norms’. Mental illness isn’t seen as an illness, in fact, it’s non-existent.

In many South Asian communities’ disclosure of mental health issues might lead to loss of respect not only for the individual but their whole family. Many Asians believe that someone who has a mental illness is possessed by a jinn (a demon). With mental illness being a taboo subject, I guess it’s easier to see it as a spiritual problem than a medical one.

Tackling the stigma…

I think that it is so important to target these communities and raise awareness of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression and challenge the stigma which would help to reduce the barriers to seeking help. Research has shown that Punjabi women are aware and understand what depression is. But, they would much rather go to the Temple, Gurdwara or Mosque than go see a doctor for advice and treatment. So, I think it is important to educate and work with the community and spiritual leaders about mental health who can then refer individuals which need mental health treatment.

A final note…
Regardless of individuals cultural background when it comes to Mental Health knowledge is power, providing support and early recognition are vital to helping our loved ones manage and thrive.

Mariam x