A silent mental health crisis exists across the globe. While in India, I read about kids committing suicide because they didn’t perform well on an entrance exam and fearing repercussions; in the US, suicide continues to be a national public health issue — it is the 10th leading cause of death.
A few weeks ago, one of my husband’s work friends succumbed to depression. In less than 24 hours … This was the second person we’d heard about who chose to end his life. Here is the thing: this man was like a bright, shining star who made people love themselves better. He was the life of every party and had infinite friends. He was the one phone call everyone answered. He was called “larger than life.” Despite all the love, generosity, and “fullness” in his life, his depression persisted. He started battling immense loneliness during the pandemic. This man was married and had a wonderful circle of friends who knew he was seeking professional help for his depression. But no one ever thought that this beautiful soul would get overwhelmed one day and just give up. No one once imagined that this shining star was burning on the inside.
Depression can be dark, nuanced, and show up differently in people. My husband’s friend, a Caucasian man, was struggling, but he was also actively getting help. He had a good support system in place. He wasn’t in denial. He didn’t have to pretend or act stoic. He dealt with his depression head-on yet lost the battle. Because we don’t really understand the darkness that depression creates within. We don’t know people’s tipping point.
Think about those who end up suffering in silence for a myriad of reasons. This is especially a common phenomenon within the South Asian community. Between “what will people say” to all the stigma, taboo, judgment, embarrassment, lack of awareness, and guilt culture, so many people choose to stay quiet about their struggles. Because South Asian families worship fortitude and forbearance, there are significant barriers to people getting help for mental health. Between the academic pressures, financial successes, marrying right, South Asians keep a scorecard. If you don’t measure up to it, you are a failure.
I once heard my friend’s dad dismiss her “low motivation” as laziness. This girl quit business school (after working towards it for three years) and sat at home. Till date it remains a mystery what happened to her. She barely completed her first semester in MBA, left the program, and she was never the same. The 20-year-old in me and my friends knew something was off, but her parents refused to have any conversation about it. She eventually jumped off the balcony of her high-rise building, and the parents told everyone another socially acceptable lie. In another friend’s home, you don’t see her older sister’s picture anywhere. She committed suicide. The family erased her memory. No one is even allowed to talk about the deceased woman.
How often have you heard a South Asian parent neglect their child’s emotional distress with “It’s all in your head.” I have even walked into a room where a person was being told, “This is all Western influence nonsense.” Sufferers pretend to remain strong because the doors to communication are slammed closed.
According to a 2018 study, “Mental health conditions among South Asians in the United States,” “Stress related to acculturation, trauma, and discrimination has been linked with depression, anxiety and substance abuse among South Asians.” According to a study by Masoud, Okazaki, and Takeuchi (2009), one in five South Asians reported experiencing a mood or anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Additionally, US-based South Asian youth were found to be at greater risk for suicide than other minority groups. It is possible the actual numbers are even higher.
For a culture obsessed with 24-karat gold jewelry, big houses, fancy cars … I do hope we start to pay as much attention to our mental health … because outer appearances don’t represent a person’s inner struggles. It’s time to remove the stigma of mental illness in our communities. It’s important to check in with yourself, your family, friends, and neighbors how they are doing. It’s imperative to become an advocate for mental health awareness in the South Asian community. We can take a culturally sensitive approach to remove barriers to people seeking help. Let’s normalize conversations about mental health and not suffer in silence!
“Mental health problems don’t define who you are. They are something you experience. You walk in the rain and you feel the rain, but you are not the rain.” ~ Matt Haig
For more of The Balanced Life on SEEMA.com, check out 7 Tips to Lower Travel Anxiety