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Shakti perspectives: Anushka

Over the years I have experienced both anxiety and depression. I think my biggest support in overcoming these issues included having a loving and caring support network (some good friends, colleagues, and family). Another factor that has truly helped is shifting my mindset or focus on one important goal. Over the last 8 years despite all the struggles or traumatic events, one thing that has really given me purpose and helped me to keep going is my studies. Channelling my energy into volunteering, work, study, and my research has helped to give me purpose during times where I have lacked hope. Lastly, of course, seeking support from mental health practitioners has also been useful in overcoming and coping with mental health issues over the years. 

While stigma associated with mental health is a global issue, there are some distinct differences in the way in which it is experienced by individuals from Eastern versus Western cultures. Several studies have found that there is higher mental illness stigma amongst individuals from Asian countries when compared to Western countries. My understanding is that individuals from Asian cultures often view mental illness as related to one’s karma or as a character weakness, with superstitious beliefs also common; this contrasts with the prevailing Western view that mental illness has an environmental or biological basis.

Due to the collectivistic nature of Asian cultures, mental illness, like other major life events, is not regarded as an individual concern; rather, mental illness is a detrimental representation of the family. Literature exploring mental health stigma indicates that Asians tend to harbour deep cultural concerns about the impact of a diagnosis of a mental illness on their family’s economic and social status. Furthermore, when physical disabilities or mental illnesses are revealed to the wider community, Asians experience “loss of face” and this can negatively affect aspects such as the marriages of other family members. This may also be attributed to the belief that mental illness and disabilities are suggestive of genetic predispositions. Somatisation and denial of mental health issues are often used to relieve families of stigma, reduce the chances of social rejection from the wider community, and maintain family honour.

The concept “fear of losing face” or causing shame aka “Log Kya Khangey” within the community has been found to be attributed to the underutilisation of mental health services by Asians. Sharing intimate and personal information with a counsellor is also perceived to be a shameful practice by traditional Asian families. Therefore, instead of seeking professional help, many Asians try to change their behaviour or control their feelings using distractions, willpower, or self-control strategies. Often, when these strategies fail, Asians will then choose to seek help from within the family system, starting with close relatives first then expanding out (e.g., immediate nuclear family, then extended family and well-regarded elderly community members). External support is only sought if family or friends are unable to help or if social or legal services require it.

Selfcare is a tough one! I always tell my clients to practice small steps of self-care (i.e. drink water, eat well, take a bath) but it’s so much more difficult to listen to your own advice! In recent times I’ve become more active in my self-care routine, sometimes it’s as simple as drinking 8 glasses of water a day or keeping up to date with a skincare routine. Other times it’s going for a walk, doing an exercise class, dancing, painting or reading a book for pleasure! If I’m feeling a little extra I might even treat myself to a massage.

I’d love to see the stigma related to mental health in our community reduce. It’s wonderful to see that spaces such as Shakti Melbourne, the SAARI collective, the Brown Come Up amongst others are raising awareness and hosting discussions around mental health. I think if initiatives such as these continue, the community views mental will change drastically. It will take some time, however, I think with time and perseverance we can eliminate the stigma associated with mental health.

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