Mental health was not a term known to me until around two years ago. I didn’t know anything about the importance of your own wellbeing, nor did I understand the devastating impact it would have on people I know. If I know anything about mental health issues it’s through my own research after a conversation with colleagues or friends. Whilst I love my heritage, the reason I knew nothing of about it is probably down to my culture and community.
The western world, by and large, has now accepted mental illness as a serious issue and a strong focus is on how to conduct conversations around the topic. However, in my culture, South-Asian, mental health isn’t seen as an issue at all. It’s dismissed as something made up, an over-dramatic illusion so you can be signed off work, or an excuse used by ‘sad’ people. It doesn’t matter that this ‘made-up’ illness has taken away the potential for many of us to be the best version of ourselves.
It’s not acknowledged that having a mental illness can be overwhelming, indescribable and isolating – often all at once. Nor will anyone tell you that mental illness is more than depression - there’s anxiety, OCD, psychosis, and many more forms. Even though 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental illness at any given time, it’s not considered something that’s worth talking about because if we haven’t been doing it all this time, why start now?
By now most of us will have read that a mental illness can affect anyone at any point in life, with or without a trigger. What many of do not talk about, at least openly, is how damaging certain attitudes dominant in our culture can be when we are struggling with our mental health. The constant judging over your appearance, intelligence, or life choices. Being compared to your cousins or a family friend throughout your entire life. The taunts. The fear of what other people might say. The nosiness. The lack of acceptance when you want to try something new. The ridicule of failure. The fact that a child or young person cannot be left ‘to be’ and develop a personality of their own.
It is for all these reasons that we need to take mental health seriously, and ensure the next generation are not subjected to the same behaviours as us. Whether you initiate that difficult conversation with a loved one or challenge an outdated attitude. Whether you correct an elder when they dismiss mental illness or focus on the mental wellbeing, and not just the exam marks, of your children. Removing the stigma from something so firmly entrenched is going to take effort. It won’t happen straight away but it won’t happen at all if we don’t make a start. There is so much to be proud of from our heritage and culture but it is time we phase out the mind-set most of us grew up with and replace it with one of awareness and acceptance.