Poor mental health is normally regarded as something that affects individuals. But sometimes it can help to take a step back and look at what may be troubling the minds of particular groups in our society. There’s growing evidence that a combination of social pressures are creating overwhelming challenges for some people in the South Asian community.
It’s important to help people with mental health problems in any community. But in the case of South Asians, offering timely and effective assistance can prevent catastrophe, as young Asian men with mental health issues are increasingly being targeted by extremists and radicalised. The pain and confusion that often comes with their illness is being redirected into violent rage.
When we examine the life of a “lone wolf” attacker we’ll often find a web of interlinked issues that have contributed to their fragile mental state, such as a difficult upbringing, bullying, rejection and confusion over their identity. Often, the people suffering do not feel they belong in our society.
While lone wolf attacks are certainly not an inevitable result of mental health conditions, they present an urgent need to ask community-specific questions on mental health to help us find the right remedies.
The issue is beginning to attract the kind of attention it needs. A report focusing on the mental health of Asian women, for instance, has been published by Sarah Wright and Dr. Nimmi Hutnik. The authors cited financial problems, poor health and social isolation as factors affecting mental health in this group. Some were also struggling with culturally-specific problems concerning religion and the concepts of “honour” and “shame”. To make matters worse, mental health services are routinely avoided by South Asian women in the UK, until they reach the “point of desperation” when it is often “too late”.
Breaking the taboo in discussing mental health is vital and a few South Asian public figures have stepped forward to talk about their own struggles. Suffering from paranoia and anxiety, England cricketer Monty Panesar described the pressure of having to conform to fixed ideas on masculinity. “When you play cricket you want to be perceived as strong, resilient, able to be competitive,” he said. After opening up about his experiences, many young Asians approached him to thank him.
Musician Steve Kapur, or Apache Indian, whose 1993 single Boom Shack-A-Lak reached number 5 in the UK, has also discussed his experiences of depression. “Whether it’s cultural, embarrassment, or whatever it is – we brush a lot of things under the carpet,” he said. To help young people face up to their difficulties, he now runs a music academy at South Birmingham College where students can express themselves through music and open dialogue.
What we urgently need is a comprehensive study on mental health in South Asian communities, with a particular focus on women’s issues. It is only by dissecting some of the issues at the heart of these communities that we can begin to resolve the host of interrelated domestic and social problems manifest in wider society..
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