Keeping up with appearances is very important in South Asian culture. This means that for many of us, it can be instinctive to appear fine, even when we are not. We may have all the markers of someone who is ‘fine’. Some of us don’t stop working towards achieving our goals and others never stop taking on responsibilities within their families or helping friends in need.
Are we suffering?
When we continue to go through the motions of life as we are expected to, can we really say that we are not fine? When we are unable to allow ourselves to be paralysed by our suffering, does that mean our suffering is even real? Whilst the symptoms of depression are universal to everyone, our cultural background can be the blueprint for how we deal with these symptoms.
Little interest in going out
When we are depressed, we can have little interest or pleasure in doing things. This can be cancelling social plans or things that we once enjoyed simply because we just don’t feel like it. Perhaps we feel tired and have no energy to go out. Taking a call from a friend or even texting back might seem like too much.
Socialising when South Asian
Having friends and socialising is not seen as a vital sign of health in South Asian communities because it’s not a physical problem, nor is it a priority. For people that live with their parents, being home every evening is met with silent nods of approval and plates of food as opposed to worried faces. When our actions are so accepted, so normalised and even welcomed, it can be hard to accept for ourselves that something doesn’t feel right.
Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much are also signs of depression. Perhaps we might cough a little or create a croak in our voices that indicates to others that we have a cold and need to rest in bed. The reality of this is that we are exhausted from too little or too much sleep, or perhaps we don’t see the point in getting up at all.
Hiding depression through illness
Our family members might bring home remedies and soups in hope that they can help cure us. For some, this only makes it feel worse, because we are reminded of the vast gap between reality and the lie. Many of us have work, study or other responsibilities to get back to, so when our sick day is over, life will simply continue, even though we still have not healed.
Feeling bad about ourselves
We may also feel bad about ourselves, that we are failures, or we have let our family down. When this idea is born, its voice can linger and whisper in our ears when we are at our lowest. Its cruel tone is intoxicating, it drags us even further down until we are at our lowest.
Never feeling good enough
In South Asian families, this voice can be triggered when we are asked by parents, or nosey aunties why we are not married, when we’re going to lose some weight or if we’re ever going to get a real job. When we are always questioned on why we are not someone else, we can start to dislike the person we are.
Our culture promotes always trying to better ourselves, and when we take this on in our day to day lives, never being good enough can be our ‘normal’ position.
Aches and pains
Whilst we advise that any medical concerns are checked out by a doctor, it is common to experience physical aches and pains when going through depression. This can be a pounding headache, crippling stomach aches, muscle tension and much more. When we are holding on to difficult feelings with no release, it can stay with us in a physical way. For South Asians, it is hard to find a safe place where we can release these feelings, a place where they will be accepted and not criticised.
Never releasing our pain
So, we keep them in, and we feel this tension in our bodies from time to time, never really knowing when the pain will strike. In some cases, we may notice these physical sensations before we even consider our mental health.
Not hiding depression, but not knowing its depression
Depression is not limited to the symptoms detailed above and each person’s experience can be different from another’s. We may not even realise that our mental health is suffering because we might not have been brought up in an environment that taught us to look for these signs. Whatever we are experiencing, when we notice our feelings and behaviour changing in any way, it is important to consider what this means for us.
We should ask ourselves “How am I feeling?”. When we answer, we must dig deep, speaking honestly and listening back with kindness.
If you have been affected by anything you have read here, there is help out there. You can access our mental health workbooks or find a therapist.