Yesterday, saw Mental Health Awareness Month (16-22 May 2016) kick off in the UK with charities, individuals and organisations holding events to talk about mental health.
When it comes to discussing mental health, there is a collective reluctance for South Asians (both in the Diaspora and the motherland) to have those important conversations with people who live with a mental health illness or those who live with family members suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other illnesses.
It’s a bizarre dichotonomy; on one hand we don’t talk about mental health problems enough yet we don’t even realise the impact it has on people who live with relatives who suffer from a mental health illness.
My father has depression, and has lived with it for many years, so much so that I don’t remember a time when my dad didn’t have depression. I love my dad – he’s been a mother and a father to me due to personal circumstances– and it’s so difficult to see someone I love so much live with a mental health illness that takes over their life.
If I were to describe how it feels, I’d say that it goes like this: my dad, depression and me. In that order. And it’s not his fault that he has bad days and doesn’t feel like he can face the world. I know that my dad is not his depression.
I’ve grown up hearing relatives say that my father ‘is mad’ or they give him a wide berth because they don’t know how to talk to him, they think that he’s an unstable, volatile freak of nature so they end up saying something offensive or backward.
That used to really get to me, but now, I know it’s because that’s all they ever knew about mental health problems and that they’re merely a product bred by the silence we choose to maintain.
With so many resources and tech at our fingertips, we can’t keep relying on the old ‘log kya kahenge‘
This silence which has permeated generations, and still continues to, is what frightens and angers me. As a collective Diaspora, we are so concerned with what other people will think (“log kya kahenge?”) that we would rather choose silence over losing face in order to save a loved one.
You have no idea how much I hate those three words: log kya kahenge and the untold suffering, melancholy, helplnessness and pain it inflicts upon so many people of South Asian descent.
When it comes to topics, any topic, we all know that silence is complicit yet so many South Asians will choose to stay silent, make ignorant comments or shift uncomfortably in their seats if someone talks about depression, suicide or counselling.
We’ve ended up turning another thing into a stigma because we refuse to let go off our ego, pride and arrogance, which may give us short term social prestige, but it makes our lives a misery.
This in turn makes it very difficult for us to assess how widespread this issue is, given that there already is very little data to help doctors and mental health experts on how to approach South Asians who suffer from mental health problems.
Today, there is not a single valid excuse, for Diasporic Asians to make ignorant statements about mental health given that 1 in 4 people will suffer from/experience a mental health illness at some point in their lifetime.
In the same way that so many of us choose silence over awareness, we can also make the choice to educate ourselves about mental health illlnesses, support those living with one and choose unity over living in our respective ivory towers.