The South Asian community is known to be one of the strongest and closest communities in the world. Both in success and in failure, we support each other and build upon our shared values – with one exception:
As a community, we probably neglect mental health more than any other group and as a result of this, stories of these “ABCD’s” giving in to the stress of their mental health conditions have become too common.
Too many of us suffer in silence… I get it.
Many of our parents immigrated from South Asia and we have the burden of making good of the opportunities that they gave us. We’re expected to work hard, compete, make it to the top and bring our family respect along the way.
I never really heard people talking highly of those who’ve sought therapy or dealt with mental health issues. Maybe you’ve heard of those people who do referred to as “complainers” and told to “just get over it.” Maybe you’ve wanted to speak up and you’ve been hindered at every step of the way because of the overwhelming stigma in our community and going to the therapist would be a sign of weakness.
South Asian Americans – especially those between the ages of 15-24 – are more likely to exhibit major depressive symptoms than the whole of the U.S. population. In addition, a report from the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Reform (APIAHF), recently found that young South Asian American women were more likely to commit suicide. Despite all of this, South Asian Americans also have the lowest rate of utilization of mental health resources in America. The reason according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, minority communities are the least likely to use mental health resources because of the stigma associated with mental health.
Depression and anxiety are difficult for me to describe or relive, and without a doubt I’ve repressed a great deal from that time in my life… But in sharing my experience I hope to show even one other person that he or she is neither alone nor helpless in the struggle…
By the time I found potential friends, no part of me could really believe I wasn’t utterly alone. And so, the depression became irreversible. I would disregard any signs of acceptance from my peers – signs that I was no longer alone, and would instead internalize doubly any taunts or insults.
I began to believe, at my core, that I was worthless. Truly, worth nothing, not worth an ounce of compassion or love, especially from myself. I would berate myself mentally, even punish myself physically whenever I felt outcast – sometimes just because it was “what a worthless person deserved.”
Mentally and physically, we may felt shattered and lost. To this day I don’t think my parents would ever admit it although they must have known. Well-being was never a topic of conversation in our household and excellence in all aspects was expected…
The off-hand comments about my weight and physique, my “status,” career choices, etc. slowly marinated in my thoughts to the point of lashing out the best I could by torturing my body and my mind.
South Asian culture, in spite of its many merits and beauties, encourages a silent, stoic suffering and, although stoicism is touted in our culture, I can say generally that kinship and familial loyalty eclipse virtually any skepticism regarding mental illness. Such loyalty, if guided, is the strongest weapon against the lack of prioritization of mental health…
The path to recovery was slow, but there was a final destination, and I did reach it with the help of many people. Although it might feel discouraging to have to fight every day just to end up where an average person begins, know that it will happen.
The mental health problem in our community is very real and the stigma has rooted itself deep; but if we start to take action now, we can potentially create a future that is much more open in terms of communication and values.
We should make it our mission to encourage honest, respectful dialogue about South Asian mental health in an effort to remove stigma, improve awareness and promote self care.
For those hurting right now, I’m sorry that you have to face such hardship. There is one cliché that does hold true for depression: you will emerge from this stronger. You will understand humanity on a level others do not. Now, years later, I consider myself immensely happy–and not because my happiness is tied to fleeting accomplishments or even fleeting relationships but because I learned in my weakest moments the fundamentals of happiness. And you will, too.
There is so much love around you if you can find a way to trust it. Until then, know that at least one woman who knows exactly what you feel right now, loves you very much.