By GRAHAME ANDERSON
At some point in life one in four people will experience mental health problems through a range of causes including stigma and discrimination. People of any status can be affected, but with Asian communities in mind taboos can be far reaching. In the past, such problems weren’t addressed or talked about openly. Sufferers would be shunned, families excluded, and any issues would be a source of shame for those involved. These problems have yet to be solved, but more and more mental health professionals and groups are now working closely with Asian communities to help solve any communication problems.
Role Model Help
England cricketer Monty Panesar and role model to many Asian youngsters has himself been subject to mental health issues in the past. His highlighting of shame and labeling toward those suffering from mental health problems has won high praise.
Now a mental health ambassador for the Professional Cricketers’ Association, he said: “The cricketing world was very supportive and understanding, but in our Asian community there was no understanding of what mental health is.
“When you play cricket, you want to be perceived as strong, resilient, able to be competitive. A lot of young Asians came forward after I went public and said, ‘we’re glad you opened up because it’s a huge taboo in our community.”
As one of the few Asian celebrities to speak out he’s already helped to break down mental health barriers, following his experience of both paranoia and anxiety.
Sharing Voices Together
Asian Sunday spoke to Bradford charity Sharing Voices whose support for BAME communities and mental health, is making a huge difference to how they perceive mental issues. They told us: “The stigma still exists within South Asian communities. As a charity we feel small steps have been taken, and we have seen an increase in referrals. But this is still like a needle in a haystack, and many Asians are still suffering in silence, due to the shame.
“One in five mental health inpatients comes from a BME background, compared with about one in 10 of the population as a whole. When services treat people from BME backgrounds, it’s important a holistic approach and positive definitions of mental health are used, and that there is recognition of alternative perspectives and understanding.
“The info is getting to most, but then it is up to the individual to act upon it, eg ‘Yes I need help’. “I have tried committing suicide.”
Another mental health expert said: “Some mental health problems go unreported and untreated because people in some ethnic minority groups are reluctant to engage with mainstream health services. It’s also likely mental health problems are over-diagnosed in people whose first language is not English.”
BAME Groups Remain High Risk
The Mental Health Foundation told us: “BAME groups are still generally considered to be at higher risk of developing mental ill health. A 2015 review looked at the association between ethnicity, mental health problems and socio-economic status. It was discovered people from black ethnic minority backgrounds have a higher prevalence of psychosis, compared with the white majority population.”
The 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) revealed common mental health problems vary significantly by ethnic group for women, but not for men. Research has also shown high rates of suicide among young South-Asian women within the UK. As organisers of Mental Health Awareness Week, they focus on a major issue each year. The group’s main theme for 2018 is ‘Stress – Are We Coping?
It’s also true to say mainstream mental health services are working hard to provide both acceptable and accessible services to meet the needs of non-white British communities.
Getting Communities To talk
Oxford University graduate Shuranjeet Singh Takhar has experienced mental health issues during his studies as he explains:
“Having gone through difficulties myself during my time at university, I was hugely helped by my house-mates who provided a formidable support structure to help me through tough times.
“I recall a conversation I had at the gurdwara (Sikh spiritual centre) with a middle-aged Sikh man. I spoke about the increasing mental health issues in the local community. He dismissed my claims mental health was even an issue, asserting it was something of ‘my generation’. Seeing his rejection and blindness to a very real issue concerned me.
“I started TarakĪ, a movement designed to fundamentally change how the Punjabi community understand, approach, and treat mental health difficulties and those suffering from them. TarakĪ means being forward-facing, progressive, and looking to a better future. We believe by working alongside local and national mental health initiatives, volunteers, and groups, we can make this change happen. TarakĪ wants to bring forward discussion about mental health to break down the negative stereotypes and assumptions associated with it. From this, we can begin to tackle mental health difficulties more effectively within the community.
“Moving forward, it’s imperative the Punjabi community work together to instigate real change in how mental health is understood and treated, much to the benefit of individuals, families, and friends.”
Positive BBC Vision
With more than 1million viewers each day Midlands based daytime drama BBC Doctors is well placed to play a major role in cutting back mental health taboos. In line with Mental Health Awareness Week they put together six hard hitting episodes designed to help raise awareness and encourage viewers to reach out for support and advice.
Story Producer Nasreen Ahmed says “We certainly aren’t intending to conquer all the myths and concerns around mental health by the end of our week but if we can use our regular characters and our ‘world’ to help viewers understand a little better and reach out for any support that is out there and needed – then we will have achieved what we set out to do.”
Food for Thought
Such prominent media coverage will do much to get people talking in their communities. Mental Health Awareness Week is set to educate people much more on problems that can be overcome with good communication, understanding and professional help. It seems there’s still a long road to travel, but mental health within the Asian community is beginning to be spoken about more freely.