“I held my grandma’s hand as I clumsily toddled through the brightly lit corridors. I felt my grandma pick me up and I placed my chubby hand on her shoulder as I curiously looked around. Greeted by a curious metallic beeping, faint red light winking and another green light blinking at the foot of a bed, I saw a sleeping man, tucked up in a bed, with pipes and wires coming out of him. I wriggled my way out of my grandma’s arms to get a closer look. His eyes were closed. His beautiful dark hair had become tangled as he slowly breathed into a pipe. I looked at his hands and saw patches, tubes full of red stuff that wound their way to a metal box with squiggles on it. I reached out and stroked the back of his hand as I looked at my grandma with tears in my eyes.”
This is one of my earliest memories and it’s the first time I’ve spoken about it to anyone. I was around 5-6 years old and I remember feeling confused and very upset upon seeing the man in the hospital bed. He was my dad but he didn’t look like my dad. My dad was a smiling, happy, hardworking man who was the life and soul of every party. Him and my uncle – his younger brother – would be at the heart of it all cracking jokes and making everyone laugh til their sides hurt. The man in the hospital bed was a million miles away from the man with a ready smile and a bank full of jokes.
Depression is what many call a “silent killer” – in my opinion it is the worst disease because it is so difficult to diagnose, treat and cure. It is a well known fact that 1 in 4 of us in the UK, will at some point in their life, experience a mental health illness. Depression is a disease that doesn’t discriminate yet many are reluctant to talk about it, let alone acknowledge it. My dad’s struggle with depression resulted in two nervous breakdowns, yet it wasn’t until I saw him in the hospital as a kid with tubes coming out of him, that I began to understand my dad’s inner pain. I remember insensitive relatives sneering at him: “It’s all in your head!” and “You’re mad, you’re stupid and stop being so attention seeking” to “You’re a man; act like one!”
I hated them and their poisonous words. I wish I could have protected him but I couldn’t. Sadly it sent my dad down a deeper, darker and toxic spiral, which we all saw and felt, and it took him a very long time to come out of a severe depressive state to one that is now managed by anti-depressants. If you saw him and spoke to him, you would never ever guess that my dad suffers with depression.
Depression and mental health illnesses are largely misunderstood by the South Asian community; it is still seen as a taboo with many families hiding and viewing it as something to be ashamed of. There’s the prejudice of: “It only happens to white people” to “Oh he/she is so weak. They can’t cope with life” to the devastating: “It’s all in your head!” which is what tips depression sufferers over the edge. The isolation, the judgement and vehement denial of mental health illnesses results in many sadly taking their own life or resorting to substance abuse in a bid to get through each moment in a day. Such remarks are as helpful as standing in the middle of a drought, looking up to the sky and screaming: “Rain!”
Monsters are real, ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win ~ Stephen King
Whilst mental health illnesses are largely swept under the carpet by the South Asian community, there is a glimmer of hope as more and more scientists hope to break down such barriers. But I worry that reports and statistics won’t be enough to change such ingrained ways of thinking. In order to fully destroy this taboo we have to go down to the root of it all and change the very way people view themselves in order to create a complete shift in attitude. This comprehensive report shows that mental health illnesses in the South Asian community are beginning to be understood and acknowledged.
The recent and deeply sad death of Robin Williams has shocked us all. One of the world’s greatest comic geniuses who made millions laugh yet his death and struggle depicted a very different man from what the media showed us. Similarly, those who struggle with depression and other mental health illnesses are the ones that we would have never guessed.