To mark South Asian Heritage Month, our SMI Programme Manager Masira Hans talks about mental health in relation to generational trauma, tokenism, belonging, difference, commonality, and the importance of people taking the responsibility to educate themselves.
So, we are currently in #SouthAsianHeritageMonth.
A month nationally dedicated to promote British South Asian Heritage and history through education, arts, culture and commemoration. A month set aside to help people better understand the diversity of present-day Britain. I am all for celebrating different cultures, hearing different experiences and delving into history. Nonetheless, I take concern with expecting to cram the richness of our culture into one month, or feeling content at setting aside one month as reimbursement for the systemic inequalities that currently exist within Britain and our communities today.
As this month is also about raising awareness for and debating relevant contemporary issues – I was asked to speak about mental health (of course)!
Now, I am not one to shy away from a difficult conversation or to not utilise my privilege and voice for topics I feel so passionate about – and I am deeply passionate about mental health.
However, when I was asked to write – I found it difficult.
Well, because there is so much to discuss.
How can I, one South Asian female from West Yorkshire be flag bearer for a whole region? How can one blog post sum up the experiences of people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan?
Quite honestly, I, and this blog cannot.
Do I begin by discussing generational trauma, ancestral baggage, systemic racism, stigma, discrimination, identity crisis, the need for culturally appropriate support or do I dance around the issue at hand?
No, I attempt to highlight my experiences with mental health in the South Asian community (having worked within and for the communities of Bradford for the last seven years) and hope to empower, inspire or bore – circle as appropriate.
Mental illnesses do exist for people within South Asian communities. That is a fact. One in four of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lives – our recent survey showed many more people were feeling more anxious and isolated due to the pandemic.
I can also share how mental ill health is generally frowned upon in all communities, stigma is not a phenomenon that only exists if you have brown skin. What is true however, is that there are additional barriers that exist if one belongs to a South Asian community. The barriers include but are not limited to language, lack of understanding of cultural norms and expectations, not knowing how to ‘work the system’ or simply a resistance from others to learn the customs of the South Asian community. For example, the importance of family, the value that elders hold in our society, the concept of upholding honour, how celebrations and mourning are community efforts. (Arguably these factors can be deemed in a positive light, whereby a support mechanism is never too far away or there’s always an excuse to have a party).
Or how individuals from the South Asian community may feel as though they will never belong in Britain.
The above-mentioned factors can stop a person from accessing support they so desperately need. My psychological background would argue this is due to the trauma our ancestors faced. Where we were not able to show any signs of weakness, where we did not have the time to reflect upon our sadness, our distress as we had to survive. We had to fight, to defeat, to safeguard.
A trait that undoubtedly has been passed through our family trees.
What helps break down these mentioned barriers you may ask?
The same thing that helps all people.
To be heard.
To be listened to.
To be validated.
It is as simple and as complicated as that.
When with a person who is of a different culture, ask them, want to learn, want to understand but also research yourself.
Too often onus is placed upon those under-represented in society to educate others about their culture.
Why should we not look into different cultures?
Read into pertinent issues such as systemic racism and generational trauma. Learn about how people from different cultures celebrate events and don’t be afraid to join in!
I have found one thread that connects us all as humans is our craving to connect. We crave connection and belonging and my hope for us is to learn how to do so.
There are similarities that connect us all together, we just have to find them. We have to want to understand one another and not only make a difference – BE the difference.
Here at Mind in Bradford, we wish to celebrate differences, celebrate cultures and support those struggling with mental health. Not just for South Asian Heritage Month or Black History Month – but every month of the year.