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Opening up about mental health when you’re Pakistani

By Zahra Faqir // BBC The Social contributor // 01 December 2020

I’m a Scottish woman of Pakistani heritage who has been diagnosed with mental health problems. Put plainly, being Pakistani and coping with my mental health is a bit of a cultural conflict.

Discussing Mental Health As An Ethnic Minority

Zahra on being open about mental health in an Asian community.

In Scotland, around one in three people are estimated to be affected by mental illness. However, ethnic minorities are less likely to seek out help or even talk about it.

To put it into perspective, a white person is twice as likely to seek help for their mental health issues than someone from an Asian or black community.

I’ve always struggled to open up about mental health. I find it difficult to talk about it. But I now know this isn’t just an issue that exists in the Pakistani community.

Many ethnic minorities have stigmatised mental health issues which has made it incredibly difficult for those who belong to these communities to seek help.

This all stems down to the cultural expectations of men and women. As a woman, I’ve experienced how discussing your mental health can destroy your reputation. Your chances of being a “suitable wife” are ruined.

For men, they hold the weight of their family’s reputation and take the age old role of the breadwinner of the house. This role, in the eyes of my community, cannot be impacted by anything. Especially not mental health issues. It’s a massive pressure on men.

I realised very quickly that discussing your mental health in my community carried a serious stigma. It’s just not built into the culture. For example, some south Asian languages don’t even have a word for anxiety, depression or mental health.

When I made the video about polycystic ovaries and the mental health struggles that I faced because of it, I received loads of messages from girls saying that they wished they could openly discuss their mental health and break out of the mental health taboo in their community.

I don’t want people to feel alone so it was good to share something that related to others!

It took me years to finally realise that my anxiety was impacting my life. I finally dragged myself out of my bed and sought professional help. It’s an ongoing struggle and my mental health issues still affect me today but I am learning to live with it.

If you’re reading this and going through a tough time, I want you to know that it’s okay. Regardless of what is ingrained in your community, know that there’s nothing wrong with how you’re feeling, there’s nothing wrong with seeking out help and there’s nothing wrong with sharing how you feel.

It took me years to finally realise that my anxiety was impacting my life. I finally dragged myself out of my bed and sought professional help. It’s an ongoing struggle and my mental health issues still affect me today but I am learning to live with it.

I felt like I could never openly discuss my diagnosis without being labelled as weak. It made me think there was something wrong with me.

If you’re reading this and going through a tough time, I want you to know that it’s okay. Regardless of what is ingrained in your community, know that there’s nothing wrong with how you’re feeling, there’s nothing wrong with seeking out help and there’s nothing wrong with sharing how you feel.