Mental health and therapy within the Asian community
Previously, I wrote about a lack of knowledge and understanding of mental health within a wide range of the Asian community. According to recent research carried out by leading mental health organisations, there seems to be myths and misconceptions around the subject. Many fears and concerns amongst the community are derived from stigma attached to mental health problems.
The society has always prioritised - and are much more worried about - what other people will think, rather than their own or a loved one’s mental health. People are much more conscious about maintaining a 'social image' in the eyes of society that any symptoms of poor mental health will be disregarded or unacknowledged.
Most people from the community believe that talking about the difficulties and feelings associated with mental health conditions would not be helpful to those suffering, as they would be entertaining them. It is often believed that people's recovery will be slower if their struggles are acknowledged and talked about and they will ‘get over’ it quicker if any symtoms are disregarded. The issue here, therefore, is, if the community is not talking about mental health problems then how will awareness increase?
So, let’s talk about some of the most common conditions.
It is a common mental health problem that causes people to experience low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. Most will experience extreme and consistent sadness, which lasts a prolonged period of time and not being able to enjoy activities that previously were pleasurable and entertaining.
According to Harvard Medical School, it's often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn't capture how complex the disease is. Research suggests that depression doesn't spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications and medical problems. It's believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.
Depression is not a choice. It is a state of mental health and may need medication or counselling.
Depression can be encompassed with anxiety, which is about constant concern and worries about the future and living in a state of uncertainty and unknowns.
Everyone suffers anxiety at some point in their life, it is a feeling of unease, worry and/or fear. You may be worried about an exam, getting married or having a medical procedure. But, for some people, the anxiety may be constant and affect their daily lives. Anxiety is the main symptom of many other conditions, like phobias, panic disorder.
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear and panic that triggers severe physical reactions - even when there is no immediate or apparent danger. Panic attacks can feel a bit like heart attacks or as if you are fainting.
Most people in the Asian community describe them as having ‘fits’ and when I ask them to elaborate, they explain symptoms of panic attacks. ‘Screaming, uncontrolled physical movement, sweating, trembling or shaking, feeling faint, losing vision, crying or feeling you are losing control’ - these are all signs and symptoms of panic attacks.
Most common conditions, like the ones stated above, are not recognised by individuals in the Asian community who are suffering, nor by their families - people who are in a position to provide help and support. Therefore, many people suffer in silence and battle mental health conditions for years without knowing what they are going through.
Often, the above problems and many others, are kept within the family to avoid bringing shame and embarrassment and preventing extended family gossip. This results in many people never approaching the right kind (or any kind) of professional help.
People hesitate to go to therapy for mental health problems. There is fear of being labelled ‘crazy’, ‘weak’ or ‘mental’. For most people, going to therapy or being on medication can mean that marriage prospects will be limited and some will even believe that if you suffer any mental health condition, future children will have mental disorders.
Remember, there is no shame in asking for help.
Some people are aware that they need treatment but do not ask due to the stigma that society has put on people suffering from mental health conditions. All mental health conditions are biological; they are the same as having an accidental injury or having a broken bone. We are not embarrassed or hesitant when telling anyone about these illnesses, so why do we encourage stigma on mental health by hiding any mental health conditions?
Talking about these conditions does not make it worse, it does not slow recovery or deteriorate the situation. Talking about it helps massively - accepting that there is a problem will help, acknowledging that you or someone is struggling will help.
Acknowledgement and empathising validates your experience. It makes it real and helps to understand the issue and the root cause. And, when you are familiar with the triggers and causes, you can often work your way out or learn to manage your condition.
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