Conversation with @mylowmoodjournal about Being a WOC & Mental Health
These are the words from @mylowmoodjournal on Instagram. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from and listen to her on these topics in her eloquent and poignant manner of writing. Here are her words:
I feel that living as a woman of colour is another layer to my mental health identity. In South Asian culture, the social pressures to ‘have it together’ in all aspects- school, career, persona; achievements your family life, personal relationships, and future place a huge weight on the shoulders of many Desis, it becomes unattainable to achieve. Notice how I didn’t place mental health amongst the list. As a grandchild of Indian immigrants, my relationship with mental health is much different to theirs, and highlighting this difference is valuable to see the changes amongst generations. To them, through moving to the UK at 18 and 21, it was placed at the bottom of the list, they were feelings to ignore, and pain to endure. There was simply ‘no space or time’ to have these feelings as new immigrants discovering their new home. Holding this mindset has been proven in the way they raised their family and saw on their grandchildren- having a hard-shell and associating showing emotion with weakness. To me, I hold a much different view, due to my upbringing and environment. Whilst, I may not have experienced a similar trauma to them in the past, I still am valid in my thoughts, and being accustomed to bottling this inside became something that made me truly on the edge of suicide.
The older generations hold power, and high respect in Asian households, and in my Indian one, that must always be respected. As mental health remains a huge taboo for many families, that turns into shame and internalised guilt. The latter half of my teenage years have been spent feeling disconnected from my family and resenting the way I was raised- to never speak up about how I’m feeling, to learn how to fake a smile well, and to play happy families with people who continue to deny my depression. When I finally mustered up the courage to send my family a ‘supporting a family member with depression’ leaflet, I was once again met with disconnect, and reminded of why I should give up. They didn’t want to understand how I struggle, they wanted to know what specific reason I had to be depressed. Unfortunately, this dismissal of mental health is very common in the community, just as my parents’ generation had to struggle through finding their identity, and my grandparents had to endure racism as immigrants, I realised it might just be something which I simply have to endure. Why not? My parents had to suffer, so why must I not?
The UK’s racism and mental health issue-
I’ve found it’s been difficult being taken seriously as a woman of colour with a mental illness. At many times, I’ve wished to give up, because we are too underrepresented, and our voices aren’t heard enough, often overlooked by our white counterparts in the community. Finding the right person to talk to about struggling with my cultural identity is hard, because the therapists I’m paired with don’t understand and can’t empathise. Which then fuels the cycle that my brain loves to run- our South Asian issues are seen as less than which is why so many Desis struggle to speak up and choose to live with the pain from fear of speaking up. The UK has some amazing services, there is no denying that, but there is so far, we can yet move towards. Our BAME voices need to be heard more across online communities and in schools, educating yourself on our issues helps us so much to understand why admitting to a having a mental illness is so scary. Creating safe discussion spaces where BAME individuals can safely (whether that’s anonymous or not) talk about their struggles without fear of being ‘caught.’ I enjoy living in the UK, but I simply cannot accept the treatment that this country has on people with mental illnesses, especially those of colour.
You may not think from the surface that the UK is racist, but once you reveal those layers and come to confront the truth, you will realise how institutionalised and ‘subtle’ their racism is woven into our schools, workforce, and politics. If I wished to talk to a counsellor at school, I would love to have the option of speaking to a brown individual with similar life experience, and when confiding into an anonymous text service, I would hope to be able to speak to someone who was educated on issues that affect bame individuals. I know they will never truly understand our lived experience, and that’s fine, but educating ourselves is such an important to step in moving forward and making us people of colour with mental illnesses feel more included. Something else I am very passionate about is decolonising the curriculum. As many other uk students would agree, our curriculum is woven with racism, microaggressions and lacks the representation of black and brown pioneers. It is ongoing, and I believe that it is possible with raising awareness and tackling this head on. Along with this, our tory government has hugely profited of the demise of people’s mental health. Their current schemes, to place calories on all menus and SIM, which criminalises those with mental illness, makes living with depression scary, and very uncertain for what my future may look like. I have had thoughts for a while to move elsewhere in Europe to escape this demise of the mental health services in the UK.
I’m not perfect and that’s okay-
I’m not perfect, and that’s okay. Living as a person with depression from an Indian background has made me lose lots of hope in my future, because of the cultural and mental cycle I feel trapped in. Whilst I still feel trapped within this, I am proud to not feel so alone anymore. I realise that there are other brown individuals with similar experiences who also felt obliged to stay quiet, and that is comforting. I know big change will take time, whether that’s in how South Asian families talk about mental health in the form of being open to learn, to diversifying our mental health services in the UK, so no black or brown individual feels overlooked or less than.