Have you ever been faced with questions like ‘What’s wrong with you? Why are you in a mood? What’s the matter? You were fine earlier. What can you be sad about? Everything is fine, just go and pray. You don’t pray often. It’s all in your head. You got nazar on you. Just cheer up. Stop being so serious, just smile. ‘
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that these questions, be it well intentioned or not, out of genuine concern or not, tend to leave you feeling more frustrated and worse than before. Coming from a South Asian background and family, there tends to be a real disconnect when it comes to understanding mental health.
One thing I’ve noticed time and time again, in particular in the South Asian and other BAME communities, is the constant delegitimisation of mental health and mental illness. Not only is it not recognised or acknowledged appropriately, but it’s almost always dismissed. This dismissal is so rampant in our society, that it becomes dangerous and can cause sufferers to self-implode.
To admit you have a problem or acknowledging these serious health issues, has become so stigmatised that even discussing it has become a taboo, making it even harder for those suffering to seek help.
If you are suffering from mental health issues, be it anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar or an eating disorder, the repercussions of these illnesses going unchecked has severe implications on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Statistics suggest that 1 in 4 adults will experience symptoms of mental disorders. These health conditions can be characterised by alterations in mood, thinking, behaviour which is normally associated with distress or impaired functioning. A person struggling with their mental health may experience this from severe stress, trauma, a loss of a loved one, a relationship, sometimes it may not have a situational origin but it can be triggered by almost anything. These changes in feeling or mood or behaviour should not be dismissed, but should be appropriately acknowledged and talked about. Time and time again, mental health gets dismissed as not a ‘real’ illness due to lack of physical symptoms. Instead it gets met with the medical diagnosis of ‘ just pray to God, you’ll be fine’.
If I happen to have my arm amputated, Kill Bill style, would I just have to pray to God for immediate relief or would I be taken to see a doctor?
I, myself, have been struggling with acute anxiety for years. Symptoms of anxiety as with most other mental health issues, varies from person to person. I, for one, have trouble sleeping, making decisions, become irritable quite easily, panic for no apparent reason, have palpitations in the middle of the night, and so on. It differs from physical symptoms to behavioural to emotional symptoms. Sometimes you can wake up and feel ready for the day, other times you may be experiencing severe self doubt or feel incapable of completing any task.
What makes it more difficult to manage, is 1) the lack of understanding what it is, 2) not knowing what to do about it, 3) feeling ashamed or guilty, 4) embarrassed or 5) dismissing it altogether. Again, these feelings stem from an environment where mental health is not discussed appropriately. Where knowledge of the issue is not as prevalent of say other physical ailments. But what’s more, are numbers 3 and 4 eventually lead to number 5. I keep asking myself, but why is it that way? Why do we feel guilty, ashamed or embarrassed? Where does this stem from? Why it is so stigmatised and taboo?
The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to conclusion that admission of having a mental health issue or instability, comes from a fear of weakness. Admitting you have a mental health issue, by default, leads to an assumption that YOU are WEAK. Admitting that there is something ‘wrong’ with you, that you are not completely ‘100%’ or that you clearly lack something, leads to feelings of inadequacy. In a world filled with photoshop and Instagram, the level of achieving ‘perfection’ becomes that much more unattainable, so admitting you have a ‘problem’ just adds to the feeling of insufficiency. On the other hand, since it’s not a physical, tangible ailment, it leads to the assumption it’s not ‘real.’ But the struggle is really real.
Statistics show that women suffer from mental health issues exponentially higher than men, but again, both the women and men in our societies refrain from talking about it. Men refuse to acknowledge it for fear of social emasculation, and women refuse on the basis that you can just ‘snap out of it’. However, the fact that 1 in 4 adults suffer from deteriorating mental health at any given time, just gives credence to severity of the situation. We all have to go through pain, and we all have problems, being able to manage that suffering without judgement or silence is important. We should have better forums for being able to talk about, social media platforms should raise awareness, schools should set aside designated counsellors, and we as fellow humans, should lend a helping hand to those who are suffering. It’s time that we begin to open up the conversation around mental health, remove the stigma around it and actually help those who are struggling.