The Immigrant Experience

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Oh the beauty of hindsight. Growing up in India I was quite an outdoorsy child. I would always be running amok and causing fear in my doting family’s eyes. I remember being fussed over incredibly when I found myself having fallen over or injuring myself while playing sports - the aunties and uncles around the house being quick to find the first aid and knowing how to help. Looking back I don’t remember the same immediate attention being given or really even knowing what to do when I was basically just feeling sad.

Having moved away from my birth country I have been exposed to a major change in my understanding around mental health and well-being conversations over the years; the biggest takeaway being that your mind is as important as your physical health.

As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is:

A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

First off, everyone has mental health. It can be good, bad or somewhere in the middle - but it is not defined by the absence of mental illness. It’s easy enough to interchange the terms mental health and mental illness, the latter being something that is diagnosable.

Though it might be slightly more prevalent in South Asian communities, let’s face it, in general there is a massive stigma around mental health and excuse my language but…..

it bloody sucks.

There is an emphasis on it being ‘hidden’. Since it is not visible, it is not taken seriously or considered to be a real problem. It’s interesting because no one ever says “it’s a broken arm, just get over it”, but unfortunately the same is not the case when someone suffers from a mental disorder. The elements specific to life as a South Asian (diasporic or other) include family traditions, culture and community values that are all aligned with our relationship to mental health.

art by @ilyuustrate

People often say how collective the culture is of South Asian countries. This collectivist mindset though usually beneficial and helps elevate, can be what creates the conditions for mental health stigma by the community wanting to preserve their status, power and prevent gossip. Hence the cycle of hiding rather than seeking help continues through generations due to the negative connotation associated with it.

Needless to say, more in-depth discussions about mental illness need to take place within South Asian communities and society as a whole. There is power in expressing your state of mind and can help bridge the gap for those wanting to seek help but don’t. If more people openly spoke about their mental well-being it would open the dialogue up to consider it a normal topic of conversation as your physical well being.

One of the reasons I got involved in GRLKND is because I want to help to democratize mental health education. I believe increasing mental health education is the pathway towards deeper self-awareness, as well as empathy for others.

As an immigrant woman of colour, I’ve felt a massive sense of optimism seeing mental health conversations being widely spoken about in our community. Even though there’s plenty of work to do, I am excited to see my community starting to engage more in this space and move towards acceptance. I'm hoping that we can speak out against the stigma that is linked with seeking mental health services in South Asian communities and can only hope we explore it further together as a community.

Here’s to stopping the “what-will-people-say” mindset.

By Shreya Basu, Inclusion Advocate at GRLKND