February 27, 2013

Manisha Tailor holding a footballSince 8 years old my twin brother and I together ate, drank and breathed football – it was pretty much our life. Joined at the hip, our love for the game both playing and watching continued until late teens. Unfortunately, as a result of a series of traumatic events, my twin became depressed – and 14 years on, continues to suffer from the taboo around mental health problems within football and our community.

I was left feeling completely shattered and broken. However, as a carer, it is this very situation that gives me the strength, motivation and willpower to continue as an individual within the professional game, especially as though it is something special that we once shared. My twin is the reason I became engaged in football and, despite the circumstances, continues to be my inspiration in wanting to do well in all aspects of the game. They say ‘god gives his toughest battles to his strongest warriors’ and in some respect, without this mental strength, carrying out many roles and responsibilities would be extremely challenging.

Mental health stigma affects families and carers too

Statistics suggest that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any one year. Mental illness affects all races and ethnicities. Yet how many can honestly say that the issue is openly spoken about, understood and accepted within the Asian community? There is a huge stigma attached to mental health problems which is a barrier that is stopping people from speaking out and seeking help.

It is not merely people with direct experience that are affected but those that act as ‘carers’ too, for instance family members. From personal experience, the ordeal is life-changing and can have major implications on family lifestyle. With my brother requiring 1 to 1 care, we did speak out and seek help and as a result we work closely with charities Life Ways and Mind, who provide some home-care. The consequences for us as a family were that my mum reduced her working hours and my dad’s work now provides flexibility. I share caring responsibility and my younger sister, studying Optometry at University, will help during weekends.

We needed to speak out to get the support we needed

Responsibility is not solely with the ‘caring’ aspect, but also the day-to-day running of a family household and general lifestyle – we simply cannot ‘go out’ as an when we like, things need to be pre-organised to ensure there is always someone at home with my brother. As a family, we work as a tight unit and I have strong belief in moral duty. Hence, I have also broken the taboo of being 32 years of age, living at home unmarried. My family is my upmost priority and I have confidence and faith that my brother will regain a ‘normal’ life.

My message would be, if you can show great strength in character, nothing is impossible. Had we not spoken out, we may not be receiving the government care that my brother is entitled to. For me being able to use the power of football as a vehicle to overcome a difficult situation is a wonderful thing – something that I have done and continue to do. If I can find an inspiration from this ordeal, then those of you in a similar situation can too. It’s about time the taboo and stigma towards the issue of ‘mental health’ is addressed. Don’t suffer in silence. It’s time to talk, it’s Time to Change.

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This article was originally published in the Asian Express.

Photography by Kajal Nisha.

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