Arokkiyam Perspectives: Miya
Mental health was never discussed growing up, however in terms of wellbeing, physical wellbeing was always prioritised. Mental health is still deeply stigmatised in many South Asian communities and the symptoms of mental health are often trivialized. I think as a diaspora trying to fit into a western society that prides itself on individual expression, we find ourselves navigating a culture at home where personal boundaries are blurred, and self-identity is determined by the validation of our family and community. The older generation tend to think mental health issues are “just in your head” and instead of being supportive they might say things like: “come on get up, get going, we never had this in our era”. Due to this, we often end up gaslighting ourselves into thinking “everything IS in our head” and disregarding our own mental health well being.
I think right now, even having this project in place is one of the first steps we can take to spreading awareness amongst the younger generation like myself. If we can ensure our generation is more comfortable in their own mental health and identity–the change can start with us.
The changes I would love to see within the Tamil community would be removing the shame and stigma associated with mental health, increasing mental health literacy, creating a safe environment within our communities to start openly talking about mental health amongst our peers, our friendship groups, with our cousins and in family gatherings. Even if it is just one person per family doing this, it will make a lasting impact, because the change we implement doesn’t end with us, it will impact our future generations as well.
I personally love taking time out for myself alone, to reflect and enjoy my own company. I love listening to music, zoning out the world, and letting my imagination take me places. Usually after a long day, I prefer to retreat to my room, which is my safe space, dim the lighting to create an ambient environment, and light some scented candles/incense. For me, sensory plays a huge role in creating a calming environment and mood for me. I love my fairy lights and incense!
Tamil families need to be more deeply educated on risk factors that can lead to mental health conditions. We are less likely to access mental health help due to ongoing stigma and lack of awareness and education, even amongst health practitioners. For example, I think my parents would be more likely to listen to a Tamil doctor educating them on the importance of mental wellbeing, and the symptoms of mental health. Therefore, I think it’s important to have more health practitioners within our community, prioritise mental wellbeing equal to physical wellbeing. It is unfortunate when the stigma is also derived from Tamil health practitioners themselves, who still chose to view mental health as a secondary condition.
I have had Tamil doctors share with me their own experiences studying medicine in Sri Lanka during the midst of the civil war, having had to overcome and endure a lot. However, because they overcame such adversity and trauma themselves, they tend to disregard and invalidate the mental health of those brought up in Australia. They believe that in comparison, our mental health concerns are not as relevant and due to being a “weak minded generation”.
My biggest advice would be, NEVER BE ASHAMED OF WHO YOU ARE. As south Asians, we were taught to always care about what others will think of us: log kya kahenge? Mattavai yenna ninaipinnam? But, has caring about what others will think of us, ever brought anyone, on the face of this Earth, true happiness and contentment?
Although we are so grateful for the sacrifices our parents have made to give us this life we have, a huge part of South Asian parents’ identities become intertwined with their children and their whole purpose of living becomes for their children. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on us, as children, to live up to those expectations, in fear of disappointing our parents and putting all their hard work in vain. We lose so much of our identity in the process of trying to be what others want us to be. I think more than anything, we want happiness for our parents just as much as they do for us. I think the best way to be happy, is to not to have your happiness and sense of purpose attached to an external source other than yourself.