By Jasdeep Bains
South Asian culture often gives precedence to physical health, sometimes at the expense of mental health needs. You might hear, “If you are physically healthy, you’re fine.” If someone expresses being anything less than happy or content (for whatever reason), the response is often, “you have a loving family, you don’t have to worry about where your next meal comes from, you have a roof over your head, why are you so dissatisfied?”
I have seen responses like this make the people I care for shut down. It makes it so much harder for them to articulate the struggles they are going through. It makes it so much harder for them to reach out and ask for help.
It turns into a constant cycle. You struggle, but you don’t reach out because asking for help means admitting something is not working. And when you finally do, it seems like no one is taking you and your struggles seriously. So too often you don’t reach out. Instead, you internalize things and try to work through them in isolation. And that isolation just makes everything worse. You’re fighting a continuous battle.
While I have not personally struggled with mental health, the challenges my close friends and family have faced highlight how much work is left to be done when it comes to mental health awareness and support.
This is not a sweeping critique of South Asian culture. I am proud to be South Asian and feel extremely privileged to have been born in California. But there is a disconnect between wanting the best for your family and friends and equipping them with the tools necessary to ensure a healthy and happy future.
I have not come across a term in my native language that encompasses “mental health,” or “mental wellbeing”, which makes it that much harder to talk about in everyday conversation. How can we convey these intangible concepts to our families and to our community in a way that encourages them to positively engage when they have not been given the framework necessary to help those around them?
We need to increase awareness, destigmatize mental health needs and treatment, destigmatize asking for help, and build an effective framework for culturally competent community support.