Let’s Talk with Dr Faraaz

Dr Faraaz Bhatti

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My columns are designed to explore topics, start a conversation and touch on real life issues that affect every community. The series is not designed to take the place of medical advice and if you do have any concerns of that nature then you should, as always seek advice from your doctor.

Let’s start with a fact. One in four people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Isn’t that a staggering statistic? Is it just something that happens to other people, or could it affect you? Not only is it so common, but so is the stigma and discrimination associated with it. This can vary across communities, where some reports looking into attitudes have revealed some very archaic and uninformed views that are still prevalent in 21st Century England.

Mental illness is wide-ranging, covering problems related to the mind. These include depression, schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, personality disorder and so on. Without going into details of each one of these – let’s today discuss the topic of mental illness as a whole. How well does the Asian community understand mental health?

Evidence suggests that there is shame, fear and secrecy when it comes to this topic – there will be many people with mental health problems who feel they can’t share or discuss their issues with family, or friends in the community. Does this have something to do with family status and reputation? Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. Secrecy means that mental health cannot be discussed or accepted, and the negative impact this can have on the individual will only serve to further isolate a sufferer of an illness.

So why are there so many misconceptions in the Asian community when it comes to this? Is it a simple misunderstanding, or an engrained cultural belief system that mental illness has been caused by God, poor parenting, genetics or even black magic? In short, mental illness is a medical problem, which can and should be managed professionally.

Family often will care for those affected, but may try to hide them away – isolating them further. No matter how good the intentions, such behaviour can only lead to further issues that isolation brings. Mental illness is a medical affliction like diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, high blood pressure and so on. Why is it seen as being outside of social and cultural norms? As a result of this kind of thinking, many ill people are inappropriately left to feel ‘abnormal’. There are certain achievements a parent may want ticked off in relation to their children such as academic success, marriage, having children and earning good money. If someone falls outside of this norm they may be labelled negatively, but why are we doing this in today’s forward-thinking society?

Many doctors, dentists, and barristers, despite their ‘success’ as professionals will fall victim to mental health problems – after all, 1 in 4 people will experience it, regardless of background or lifestyle!

Valuing people in our family and our community is a positive step to securing good relationships. It allows for cohesion within a group of people. People with mental health problems should be valued like everybody else, they should be listened to and receive the same attitudes as the next person. But still in 2016 this is often not the case.

And now to touch on marriage prospects. I am focusing on the Asian community here – but this could apply to any other group as well. Why would mental health problems affect marriage prospects and why are they linked so intricately? When one looks at a marriage proposal for their daughter or son, how high in the list of ‘undesirable’ attributes do mental health problems come, and is this fair?

I have been very direct and posed some searching questions regarding this interesting topic. Recently the Duchess of Cambridge put her voice behind mental health awareness – and rightly so, it is becoming a topic we as a society are talking more about. The Asian community can bring a lot of positivity to this discussion. A close-knit community with core family values can play an important role in the care of an unwell person if done correctly. We should not allow misunderstandings from generations past filter through to today’s thoughts on mental health – what it was over a hundred years ago is not what it is today.

People, if they receive the right help and support, can recover from mental illness, and they are victim to it through no fault of their own. It should not be a taboo subject, or one that brings shame to any individual or family. Mental health ignores social class, professions and geography. It is everywhere and the stigma can be defeated through informed education and changing attitudes. Our understanding of this type of illness has advanced significantly in the past century, and yet the stigma and behaviour attached to it have not in their entirety.

One size does not fit all, and if you are uncertain about any mental health needs that you have – talk to your doctor.

I hope that leaves you with some questions, and some of which only you may have the answers. Reflect and enjoy your journey! You can follow my Twitter feed on @Faraaz_Bhatti and let’s talk about important health issues. If you would like me to discuss any specific issue or get a conversation going then feel free to let me know.

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