south asian mental health festival

First ever South Asian Mental Health Festival

On the 4 December, more than a 100 people joined remotely, for the first ever mental health festival specifically tailored for the South Asian community. As a part of the organising committee, I had been working towards this day for more than a year. When we first discussed the idea of collaborating on this project. We all shared a passion that mental health was not spoken about enough in our community. And that conversations on mental health in the UK were not culturally nuanced. 

Reflecting on our South Asian Mental Health Festival

Over the last month, I have been reflecting on what the day taught us about the situation of mental health in our community. And what more needs to be done to address these challenges. 

1. Talking about mental health is transformative in and of itself 

The day brought together experts, practitioners and advocates in the mental health space. One of the most powerful discourses was however the panel exploring marginalisation and mental health. Part of this touched on the lived experiences of mental health from each of the panellists and how their experiences had led them to pursue certain career paths or set up their own initiatives around mental health. 

It is still not common enough that on a large platform, we see members of our community admit “I struggle with my mental health” or “I have depression”. I have no doubt that seeing people own their own mental health diagnoses, it validated the experiences of so many participants. Talking alone can be more powerful than we think.

2. Simplicity is effective

Mental health is a complex topic that incorporates both biology, psychology and social issues. For this reason, it can often seem inaccessible to many of us. It can hard to quite fathom what might be behind it all. We had hoped that for those who are only beginning to engage with discourses around mental health. This festival would act as an introduction, a catalyst for further conversation. 

Throughout the day, experts simplified their years of expertise, into short and insightful talks and workshops that allowed attendees to engage on a heavy topic in manageable soundbites. They could drop in and out of the day in a way that was comfortable and not overwhelming. We must remember that an important part of breaking down barriers is being able to discuss things in an approachable and easy to understand way.

3. Self care is a necessity, not a luxury

We ended the festival with a section on practical sessions that would allow attendees to walk away with skills they could use on a daily basis. One of these explored what self-care means and how to create your own self-care plan. We have been taught to feel guilty and ashamed for prioritising ourselves, and so self-care is something we do not see growing up, nor do we feel comfortable practicing it. 

One of the most powerful messages for me was simply that self care is a necessity and not a luxury. It is often something I have only turned to in moments of crisis, when my anxiety has flared up, and I feel a panic attack brewing underneath the surface. Rather than a small daily choice that is essential to day to day functioning. If I take anything in to 2022, it will be to continue to unlearn the shame and guilt around prioritising myself, and creating habits that support my mental health daily. 

4. Knowledge and wisdom is all around us

As much as we discuss mental health not being spoken about within our community and the high level of stigma around it, there is so much wisdom and knowledge in our community. From yoga and meditation practitioners, to psychologists and psychiatrists, the festival demonstrated that members of our community are incredibly well-versed on mental health and can provide the nuanced resources that many of us have been looking for. 

Even beyond experts, the chat throughout the day showed the community that surrounds us online and how much peer to peer learning can also support us when it comes to mental health. For every person who shuts down these conversations, there is always someone else willing to talk openly and support you through it.

We are yet to know what is next for this project, but I am proud that we were able to attract an engaged crowd into a conversation that is often so difficult that we prefer to overlook it. I hope we see more and more initiatives like this, that bring together open and honest conversations on these topics and provided nuanced advice and resources for all.

“For every person who shuts down these conversations [about mental health], there is always someone else willing to talk openly and support you through it.”