If you have a physical health problem you receive much sympathy and rarely get blamed for your misfortune. But regrettably this isn’t the case with mental health, especially in Asian and Muslim communities. Unfortunately in such cultures often we get blamed for our mental health or even worse, expect to have control over it. Sometimes you’re expected to “just shake it off”, or be told to “stop being so worried all the time”, or simply to just “chill out”.
Despite significant rise in mental health awareness in the UK many remain unaware of what depression or anxiety actually are. For instance, take depression; if you haven’t been motivated to meet your friends or join a family gathering often it’s just “I can’t be bothered”, “I just don’t have the energy”, and yes that may well be the case. However depression sits on a wide spectrum and is not limited to ‘feeling sad and tearful’. Depression can be anything from change in appetite, sleep or motivation and become easily misinterpreted or missed.
Another common problem is panic attacks; that feeling of tightness in the chest, sweating, shaking, increased heartbeat and breathing, and numbness in your legs/arms. These symptoms can sometimes mistakenly be confused as heart attacks, or just “a sense of dread”. Experiencing a panic attack may result in anxiety and a fear of your symptoms, leading you to think that you have a serious physical health problem. Even worse, it could bully you into avoiding situations that remind you of it. Therefore you might stop going to a certain restaurant altogether because of that one time you felt you were “dying” or “fainting”.
Let’s take a common anxiety example. Ajmal, a 30 year old Asian man who suffers from anxiety. Every morning Ajmal would wake up with a sudden surge of discomfort, butterflies in his stomach, feeling sick and getting headaches. Ajmal didn’t know what this was, was calling in sick at work and felt he couldn’t cope. Ajmal’s problems didn’t really have a reason, at least not one he could put his finger on.
Life had thrown a few tantrums lately, but nothing he couldn’t handle. So, let’s imagine Ajmal as a bucket for a moment, with different little things filling him up, things like: work pressure increasing, a distant family member passing away and people being grumpy and rude on the underground.
If all of the above began filling Ajmal, his bucket at some point will overflow, that’s when he would start feeling anxious and low. Often this is the case with common mental health problems, sometimes it’s more than just one thing, it’s the little things you are often not even aware of. Your bucket starts filling up and all of a sudden you lose that automatic ability to drain it.
Psychological therapies are no longer the typical image of sitting on a chair and being analysed by someone – that does still exist and is very helpful for many, but there are now also less intrusive methods that you can seek help from. Common mental health problems are, as the name suggests, common, in fact 1 in 4 suffer from them! If you experience anxiety, low moods, lack of motivation or fear of being in certain situations, don’t brush this under the carpet, seek some help, speak to your GP.
Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPTs) are mental health services every borough has, many of which accept self-referrals. The age of shying away from mental health problems are beginning to be forgotten, but unfortunately they continue in our communities. If you suffer, be the first to seek some support, help yourself and educate others.
by Hanieh Toussi
(Hanieh is a psychological wellbeing practitioner who works for the NHS in IAPT)