Brushed under the carpet – Depression in the South Asian Community

Brushed under the carpet – Depression in the South Asian Community

The statistics by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) 2017 revealed that 1 in 4 of the UK population will experience depression.

Many South Asian communities regard depression as taboo, something that is brushed under the carpet. It is often hidden from family and friends to elude the image of a perfect family. A report written by Dame Louise Casey in 2016, mentioned many things that could be an underlying cause for the state of depression in this particular community.

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The South Asian community has always been closely-knit. The report revealed, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities live in more residentially segregated areas than any other ethnic minority group. Compared to other minority faith groups, Muslims tend to live in more concentrated residential areas, including Birmingham, Bradford and Blackburn; the population of Muslims tend to be between 70%-85%, it should be mentioned Muslims make up only 4.8% of the UK population. As a result, culture and traditions are so ingrained in everyday life. A large part of South Asian tradition is that of honour (izzat), it has always been so heavily embedded in the community, that topics such as depression would impede on someone’s honour as it does not conform to their cultural ideology. Prof Dinesh Bhugra, an expert in mental health at King’s College London, says the South Asian population has “a bigger notion of shame” than others in the UK.

There are a whole host of cultural factors that can lead to women and men alike, in this community, to depression. For many women, they may be first generation immigrants, often through marriage. The pressure put on women in this community are intense and rather unobtainable, they are expected to be the perfect daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, mother, friend and sister. Any woman knows that trying to achieve this level of perfection is challenging and unrealistic.

Women in this community often lack autonomy, having little power and control over their lives. The report went on to reveal, there is a strong correlation of increased segregation among Pakistani and Bangladeshi households in deprived areas with poor English language and poorer labour market outcomes. As well, there is a striking inequality for women in this community. This negative cycle will not improve unless there is intense and targeted effort on this issue; given evidence with the fact women in this community have little or no access to education or employment opportunities. They reach breaking point bringing about anxiety, stress and in the end depression.

In many South Asian cultures, the notion of feelings and emotions are seen as a weakness. Instead they are taught, or rather made to learn, to keep it bottled up inside, so their families honour stays intact.

There is a huge misconception about depression in the community. For many of the older generation they do not understand what mental health is and that it can be treated medically. For many, the causes of depression are believed to be black magic, the will of God or even bad parenting.

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For many people who are suffering from depression, they are unable to seek comfort in their elders. The fear of being made to feel like they are a burden or their mental health is a non-issue. For a lot of women, they are dependent on male support; this can further isolate the individual and they become even more reluctant to seek help.

Another issue at the heart of the South Asian community is that marriage prospects can become damaged. With many believing mental health is hereditary and incurable, prospects of marriage become hindered. The family name becomes tainted; this can then spread to extended families name also becoming tarnished. This leads to many families brushing the issue under the carpet.

As a result, not having the ability to open up to someone or for some women, not having anyone that cares enough to listen, can put a strain on their mental health. This can cause anyone to become clinically depressed. For most, they seek help out of desperation, at that point it is usually too late.

What can we do to help? The first recommendation in Louise Casey’s report, inspired by JAN Trust, is to support programmes in order to help improve community cohesion. Casey reiterates the idea of using programmes as they provide a clear focus on reducing segregation in the local area and addressing the key priorities of the area. We offer advice and refer those who are suffering from depression. Our centre also provides the chance for women from different backgrounds to become a community and empower one another.

At JAN Trust we host our Web Guardians™ programme to fight against extremism and online radicalisation. We offer English language classes and IT classes that overall empower local women that would have otherwise felt marginalised. We push forward for women to raise their employment opportunities by offering classes to help with CV’s and job searching.

If you would like to contact us please call on 02088899433 or email us at info@jantrust.org.