The universally-recognised Kubler-Ross model (The Five Stages to Acceptance) states that the first step on any journey to acceptance is denial.
Denial is something most South Asian families who have a loved one with a mental illness are stuck in. Although the stigma attached to mental illness affects all communities, the South Asian mindset needs to change. India and Sri Lanka are in the top 20 for highest suicide rates in the world.
People die from suicide more than HIV in South Asia. If this is not a wakeup call, I don’t know what is. Whether it’s depression or bipolar disorder, my community must awaken to reality and empathise with those who are ill and suffering on a day-to-day basis.
As a 19-year-old female with a mental illness (EUPD also known as BPD), my family have been quite progressive when it comes to understanding my illness. They know my triggers, and to speak to me with compassion when I am not feeling myself. They reassure me that my pain is temporary, and that in time, I will become someone strong and independent.
On the contrary, many families seem to shame their suffering loved ones, constraining that they have brought dishonour upon the family; that they personally do not need this extra stress; that this is just a label falsely put on to them by the Doctor, and that it will severely damage marriage prospects. Some may even turn to indoctrination, forcing the belief that mental illness is just possession, blaming everything on the devil. This can have detrimental effects, making the sufferer feel like they are just a burden to their family, and that they have nowhere to turn to.
Rejection from family when under the effects of mental illness can often lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as addiction to alcohol and drugs, self-harm, and even suicide. Believe me, feeling alone is possibly the worst thing on earth, so why can’t the ones who are meant to be the closest to you show that they will be there each step of the way as you fight to survive?
We need a big change to save many lives. More individuals with mental illnesses need to feel like they can speak to their families. We need to raise awareness and educate people. It needs to be more openly spoken about that mental health is a real thing, and that it effects 1 in 4 people in the UK and that no, it is not a harsh punishment from God. In my own life, I aim to make these changes in a number of ways, primarily by becoming a mental health nurse to help eradicate the stigma and discrimination by doing hands-on work in my own community.
Let’s end the stigma! Next time someone you know is diagnosed with a mental illness, do not turn your back on them. Show them you are someone who understands that mental illness is as important to care for as any physical ailment. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and compassion.
Never let anyone feel like they are alone in the world. We must work together and help to eradicate the high suicide rates, which grow more and more heart-breaking every day. Do something positive today – maybe text a friend who is suffering, or make your parents to read this.
Together, we can end this stigma surrounding mental health, and start saving lives.