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Mental Health Stigma in the South Asian Community

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

We all know it and have felt it for generations and generations. Mental health is severely stigmatized within the South Asian community. Why? Is it academic pressure, gender roles, or cultural conflict?

Research from The Centre for Addiction and Mental health (CAMH) has shown that pathways to mental health services are shaped by communities of origin, cultural identity, and collective stigma. Did you know South Asian communities are one of the largest visible minority communities in Canada? According to recent research, Canada is home to 1.6 million people of South Asian origin, the largest racialized group in the country. Research suggests that the rates of anxiety and mood disorder for this population compared to immigrants from other parts of the world are significantly higher.

For many young South Asians, it is common to feel the pressures related to excelling in school, sports, or even financially. South Asian youth face intergenerational and cultural conflict, this constant feeling and concern can catch up to someone and feel extremely limiting. 50% of mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three quarters begin by the age of 24 years of age. The pressures associated with “excellence” and “perfection” often framed and packaged in the South Asian community are affecting our youth. For immigrant parents, one of the main reasons they migrate to North America is for opportunity, growth, and education. Our parents sacrifice so much for us kids, and it is often overlooked the underlying pressures that they create. Some immigrant parents feel that they sacrifice so much for their kids and if they do not “turn out” exactly how they hope, it is disappointing to the family and the community.

The cultural demands underlying the pressures in the South Asian community can cause internal and external conflict. Sometimes the pressure is completely internally curated feeling like we can not be a “disappoint” to the family. Or we do not want to “let them down”. I know at times I feel like I pressure myself to excel more so than anyone in my family or in my community. It is like setting up this expectation and constantly playing it back in your brain every night before bed. I have realized while living through my own life stressors. It is so so important with the influx of technology and social media to find your WHY and find what drives YOU. Not what pleases your “community”.

While we educate ourselves and our children on the constructs of mental illness, it may be necessary to educate our elders.

What can we do? It starts with YOU.

  1. Increase and promote conversation surrounding mental illness. Educate our youth, our elders, and our teachers. There is always something more to learn and increasing the ability to converse will eliminate the stigma.

2. CAMH has been given a 1 million contribution to developing a culturally adapted form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It is the first major project to develop and test culturally adapted (CBT) for South Asians. Consider seeking resources from trusted sources to promote mental health awareness within your household.

Mental Health illnesses DO NOT discriminate.

I have immense gratitude towards my family and friends who are open to understanding and learning more about my anxiety, but this is not the case for many if not most young South Asians. If you are interested in learning more check out the links below.

Find a South Asian Therapist:

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