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Mastering Mediocrity: The taboo of mental illness in South Asia

2 years ago

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“Healing takes time and asking for help is a courageous step,” said Mariska Hargitay, but unfortunately for ones living in the South Asian community, asking for help has more to do with giving up their societal reputation than wanting to get better. As mentioned in our previous article, this has not only decreased the number of individuals seeking help, but also significantly reduced the number of resources available. The root cause for mental health being such a taboo in many households lies within the walls of it being passed on from generation to generation and being disregarded for many decades. In many cases, unhealed trauma of parents affects their children the most, and when presented with symptoms – it is ignored as if nothing. There is no word for depression in almost any of the South Asian languages, as it is always passed on as “life’s ups and downs”. A fact that many don’t seem to understand is that, to be of sound body, one needs to have a healthy mind and they’re both equally important. The “Time To Change” campaign has identified that within the South Asian community, mental health is stigmatised to a level where shame and a fear of others finding out plays a more important role than caring about one’s health itself. Many people in the community do not regard mental health as a medical issue, but instead pose it as a superstitious belief that “it is due to a mistake they made in their previous life and are now being punished for it”. Although we have come a long way from how we used to be, it is still a topic that isn’t brought up as much and goes undiagnosed for long periods of time. Here are a few facts about mental health in South Asian countries:
  1. Depression affects 86 million people in South Asia – the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that almost one-third of people suffering from depression live in South Asia
  2. Postpartum depression amongst South Asian women is often undiagnosed – the gender of the baby, domestic violence, and poverty are a few of the factors that put new mothers at a higher risk of postpartum depression
  3. When mental health is strong, productivity increases – although poverty rates in South Asia are declining, research has found that providing mental healthcare to South Asians is a major step towards eradicating poverty within the region
  Lack of understanding or proper knowledge of these psychological disorders has led to negative attitudes, and due to the usage of the word “mental”, people tend to take it quite literally. People lean towards keeping cultural expectations and reputation at a higher position in their lives than their own well-being. This toxic nature has only worsened things for many individuals and been nothing but an obstacle on their path to getting real help.  On the other hand, countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia have made mental health a top priority by creating policies to address mental health on a national scale. The WHO has recently applauded their work and the important step it takes towards normalising and treating depression and mental illness. Along with national policies, in countries which do not have the appropriate facilities to make mental health a priority, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are providing crucial support to people suffering from mental health issues. Just like how one wouldn’t be ashamed of a broken leg, and how we would not ask someone to walk with a fractured ankle, it is now the time for everyone to begin accepting the fact that mental health issues are also as serious. To speak and to be unheard is one thing, but to be kept quiet in the name of societal shame is entirely different. We as a community need to start opening up and embracing the mediocrity in mental health issues in order to make it better for the future.   (Written by Amani Najumudeen)

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