One of the aspects I love most about my culture is the collectivistic nature of it and how much of a strongly connected community we are. Therefore, it really confuses and disturbs me that despite this fact, something as common, prevalent and important as mental health, is still such a taboo and often completely off-limits subject among the South Asian community. In a culture that is characterized by maintaining strong relations and where family reputation and honor are highly regarded, the subject of mental health often gets associated with a culture of shame, and therefore many suffer in silence.
Growing up as a South Asian woman in California, I have personally experienced the dichotomy of living in the west and dealing with the struggle of cultural identity that so many people of all backgrounds struggle with, which can often lead to mental health issues like anxiety, depression and stress. I myself experience bouts of anxiety where I feel like my heart is about to burst out of my chest at times, and usually there is no “reason”. I am grateful to have been educated about mental health and to feel like I have the tools and resources I need whenever I feel anxious. I grew up in a household where the subject of mental health was and is not only a welcome topic, but also a very important part of our daily conversations. Having a mom who is a therapist, I’ve learned a lot about the benefits of therapy, the importance of awareness and conversations about it and that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to mental health. However, I know many people in my community that are close to me who suffer from various mental illnesses and very often aren’t aware of it, and/or don’t get the help that they need. My heart bleeds for those who don’t get the help they need, because there are infinite resources out there. Additionally, it can be extremely difficult and challenging for the people around those who are suffering, since seeking help really must come from within. I am passionate about helping to raise awareness and to help de-stigmatize the issue which affects far too many of us to ignore or be in denial about.
Being on Netflix’s series “Never Have I Ever” has been wonderful for so many reasons, especially when it comes to representation. But digging even deeper, the fact that our show addresses mental health (with the characters of Devi and Nalini dealing with grief and various other issues) is something I am very happy about. Showing a young Indian-American girl in highschool dealing with many of the same coming-of-age issues that her non-Indian peers are dealing with, along with the grief of losing her father, while she goes regularly for therapy is something that we as a community and as a nation have never really seen before with South Asian characters. In one scene, Nalini (Devi’s immigrant mother) says “therapy is for white people”, and I think this really hit home for many South Asians who come from families that have similar views. I hope that seeing these characters dealing with their mental health issues while going for therapy helps to normalize these things for the community and inspires others to seek help in the same way if and when they need to.
Practicing self-care and prioritizing my well–being is so important to me, because I am acutely aware of how much my mental and physical health are connected. I also believe there is a strong link between mental health and spirituality. Feeling isolated from others can often lead to depression and other mental health issues, and that’s where spirituality can help in feeling more connected to others and cultivating a sense of joy and awareness of the deeper meaning of events that take place in our lives.
Some things I do to take care of my mental health during this quarantine period and on a regular basis include: meditation, yoga, exercise, surrounding myself with positive influences, reminding myself that I can only control what I can control and the rest I surrender to the Universe with the trust that everything ultimately happens for the best, reducing/eliminating exposure to negative media/violence/dark subject matter, going for nature walks, journaling, practicing gratitude and remembering to laugh and find joy in the simple things in life.
I am glad to see that there are many organizations and campaigns out there addressing the stigma and culture of silence around the issue of mental health both in and outside of the South Asian community. I believe that having more open conversations and creating a space for people to feel safe and comfortable talking about their mental health is what is going to help our communities and our world not only survive but move towards more joy and empathy.