Depression Considered A Phantom Disease In Asian Communities
Social media has developed a generation of bellyaching whingebags. Every emotion, minor event, sentiment and thought is documented and published for the world to see. Hordes of friends and acquaintances flock to you and your passive-aggressive status, making a much bigger deal out of your car getting a flat tyre than need be.
Are you really depressed because you’re unemployed or because your girlfriend broke up with you? Or are you just sad? “The problem with depression,” says long time sufferer 50-year-old Khalil Shahzad, “is that many people don’t see it as a real illness. People are so quick to call their sad feelings depression; they end up playing down a serious disease. And for sufferers, that is a very frustrating thing.”
…one in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health issue.
According to alarmingly high figures, mental health disorders – specifically depression – is more common amongst UK citizens than perceived. Each year, around one in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health issue, according to the Office of National Statistics. The most common mental health disorder is mixed anxiety and depression, with figures showing that around one fifth of UK adults suffer from the illness.
In line with the statistics, depression is quite common; therefore the taboo surrounding it has lessened over time, with help in the form of support groups, medication and counselling readily available for those who seek it. While the issue is widespread amongst white communities, depression is still not openly discussed within Asian society; not only because there is a stigma surrounding it, but also because it is often disregarded as a ‘phantom’ disease or misconstrued for just sadness.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders amongst South Asians in the UK, however, discussion surrounding the topic is limited. Research has shown that there is a severe lack of understanding within Asian communities about the illness. Misunderstanding and miscommunication prevent many South Asians from discussing depression openly with family members or friends. Sufferers of the disorder are often told to simply ‘snap out of it.’
…South Asians in the UK underutilise health services compared to their white counterparts.
Khalil continues: “I have suffered depression for many years but my own brother still doesn’t believe it’s a proper, clinical condition. He’ll tell me to ‘just cheer up’ without realising that it’s more than me just feeling a little bit down sometimes. In my opinion, depression is worse than cancer. With cancer you are treated, it goes. It’s a disease of the body. But depression takes over your mind and there is no escape. No amount of medication can get rid of it.”
There is a significant difference between depression and sadness. Sadness is a fleeting emotion, but depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain which results in a persistent feeling of severe despondency and dejection. While depression is an inescapable feeling of perpetual sadness, many South Asians do not understand that their feeling of dejection is in fact a mental disorder. It is almost unheard of that ‘sadness’ can be a real clinical disease. Further studies support this, as research shows that South Asians in the UK underutilise health services compared to their white counterparts.
There are several reasons for this; the first being that South Asians who suffer from depression do not receive family support because illnesses that are devoid of corporeal symptoms are dismissed in Asian communities. With people close to them diminishing their feelings, it is understandable that they begin to shy away from seeking professional help. As for the second reason, the stigma surrounding depression is extraordinarily high. This results in many South Asians feeling too scared or ashamed to visit their GPs, and so they feel isolated and suffer alone.
Encouraging Asian communities to understand that depression is a mental illness is the first step.
Groups like Time to Change work to end mental health discrimination. Head of Communications Kate Nightingale tells us: “Even though one in four people will experience a mental health problem, it is still often a taboo subject, and in South Asian communities it can be really hard to talk about it… families feel it is something to be ashamed of. However, it is only by people talking openly about mental health problems that we can begin to break down barriers and dispel some of the myths, damaging stereotypes and misunderstandings about mental health. This in turn, will lead to people getting the support they need from friends, family and the wider community.”
So what can be done to change perceptions? Khalil says: “I don’t have high hope for the older people in the community. I don’t see my brother ever changing his perception of my illness because he hasn’t already. It’s time to rest our hope in new generations and let them talk about it instead.”
Encouraging Asian communities to understand that depression is a mental illness is the first step. Understanding the severity of it is the second. Then finally, discussing it will ultimately help those who suffer, so they don’t need to suffer in silence.