In the UK, 75% of lives lost by suicide are male, according to the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).
Conversations around suicide and male mental health in the South Asian community are still far and few between.
22-year-old Amandeep Singh from West Yorkshire, better known on social media as Deepy, recently took his own life. His death showed a glimmer of hope in changing the conversation around male mental health as people shared his story widely on Instagram along with messages of love and kindness.
“All too often, we hear about men ending their life, and when it’s a South Asian man, it hurts differently,” says Dr Umesh Joshi, a psychologist from London and part of a group of psychologists known as the South Asian Therapists.
“I can’t help but think about the experiences men from marginalised groups experience, such as racism, microaggressions, being subjected to and learning unhelpful ways of coping and suppressing feelings.”
Raj Kaur founded the South Asian Therapists global directory and Instagram page to provide a space for those in the community to get support that was also culturally inclusive.
“It’s difficult enough for South Asians to get treatment in a system already based on white bias in medicine and diagnostics, but stigma within families and the community makes it harder still for South Asians to get support,” she says.
“De-stigmatising mental health and improving access need to go hand in hand.”
Joshi has worked with several male clients from a South Asian background. He says some of the difficulties they face include issues around cultural pressures, sexuality, academic achievements, and emotional expression.
He believes tackling the stigma around mental health in South Asian communities isn’t just about people “reaching out” when they need help.
“Sometimes it can be hard to hold and contain somebody else’s distress if they do open up.
“The conversation needs to be about more than reaching out. We also need to think about what to do with the information someone shares with us.”
“All too often, we hear about men ending their life, and when it’s a South Asian man, it hurts differently.”
Here are some ways he believes can improve the way mental health is viewed in the South Asian community.
1. More inclusive language
Joshi believes some of the struggle South Asian men face is around the lack of “emotional language”.
“There can be shame around feeling sad, low or crying.”
“There isn’t always a framework in households for dealing with stress, anxiety, depression or anger. Then, when those feelings come out in unhelpful ways, it continues because no known alternative feels safe or appropriate.”
Having a better breadth of language to use around emotions will open up ways to talk about them.
2. Lower cultural pressures
“Expectations for men in a lot of South Asian households in Britain include being a breadwinner and finding practical solutions to difficulties in the home.”
Joshi says he has first-hand experience of these pressures being the child of first-generation immigrants.
“The emphasis is on survival, achieving well and being comfortable financially. I think immigrant (South Asian) parents want South Asian society to approve of you.”
“It’s difficult enough for South Asians to get treatment in a system already based on white bias in medicine and diagnostics, but stigma within families and the community makes it harder still for South Asians to get support”
There are ways South Asian men can help themselves.
“You have to think about why it doesn’t feel easy talking about your mental health.
“Once you’ve recognised what feels challenging, acknowledge that everyone has handled the feelings you are experiencing, just to a different extent and in different ways.
“Try to speak about one aspect of your mood or mental health with someone you trust, feel safe with, and is likely to listen without judging you.”
Joshi also mentions practising being that support for someone else too.
“Don’t be afraid to recognise other people’s emotions. When appropriate, if someone looks or seems sad, ask them about it, like, “You seem a bit sad today, is everything okay?”
“Embedding more emotional language in your conversations not only allows people to feel safe in talking about them, but they’re often willing to listen to you, too. Over time, it becomes easier to recognise and communicate what you and those around you may be feeling.”
4. Increase access to help
“Access to mental health services should be discussed in religious places such as temples, gurdwaras, mosques, churches, etc.
“Normalising access to these services should be talked about as a positive step and not considered sad or bad. Somebody getting help to live a fulfilling life is good.”
Help and support:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
- CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email email@example.com
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.