You can hear the noise. Bhangra music, fairground rides and the voices of those you know. In the crowd, you struggle to see the performers, but your mind’s on other things: the all-too-many people gathering around you, discarded food at your feet and your little sister who’s disappeared with a cousin to get ice cream. You could’ve chosen to focus on one of the many distractions in the bustling scenery. Instead, you think of the last time your sister went to get ice cream, two years ago at a Mehla (Indian fair) like this, and the panic in your heart when she got lost. All of a sudden, the noise is too loud, you’re begging relatives to phone her and tears cloud your vision. You can’t move, you can’t breathe, you can’t stop crying. You can’t help but notice the disappointment in your mother’s eyes and the peering faces of those around you. It’s just not the Punjabi thing to do.
As a BME person living in the UK, I never typically related mental health problems to people of colour, never considered myself able to have a panic attack. If I’m completely honest, mental health seemed to be white territory; something that couldn’t possibly reach me and my brown world. Typically unspeakable in my own community, I’ve grown up with little to no understanding of mental wellbeing. This is the case for many of those from an ethnic minority background. This is something that deserves to be changed.
The statistics themselves raise so many questions about how such little has been done for ethnic minority communities. In the UK, figures show that Black men are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental health problem than white men, and other studies reveal that South Asian girls are 3 times more likely to die from suicide. As well as this, in a study conducted with just BME people in Great Britain, Indian people were the group of people most likely to face depression and anxiety, whilst Black people are most commonly diagnosed with schizophrenia.
If these statistics weren’t bad enough, mental health services in the UK found that minority ethnic groups typically experience poor hospital treatment and are more likely to disengage from mental health services. Both community-wide and familial pressures have been found as causes of longstanding mental health problems for BME people, and the fight against institutional racism hasn’t helped either. Had I myself known about these figures, had myself and minority communities on the whole been educated about mental wellbeing transcending race, I would’ve made more of an effort to look after my health. Had I known, I don’t think I would’ve been as likely to have had that panic attack at the Mehla, I don’t think I would’ve spent the past few years with crippling insecurities and recurring feelings of anger and confusion. I think I would’ve spoken out and tried to make those around me more aware in general
This need for awareness should be echoed to the media; with the majority of TV shows on mental health being overwhelmingly white, a lack of stories like this on public platforms and stereotypes about BME people, it’s understandable why a dialogue must be created. We need change. Not only for our generation does something need to happen, but also for those after us. For too long, the stigmas and stereotypes existing within ethnic minority communities about mental health have prevented people from seeking help and support. For too long, people of colour have felt ostracised and ashamed. Not only should we be represented, but practices should also be put into place through the media to encourage both the public and healthcare workers to tackle the stigmas around BME people and mental health, whilst also working to cater to the needs of people of colour who need support for their mental health (for example, by offering psychologists from the same background as the patient).
Looking back at when I’ve had panic attacks or felt anxious in the past, I wish mental wellbeing was promoted more by the Punjabi people I’m around or look up to. Regardless of whether it’s you, friends, family members or other people from the same background as you who are suffering from a mental health problem or feeling low, speak up. Provide a network; don’t allow BME people to become statistics. On the whole, the UK needs to take action if we are to truly eradicate the negative associations and solely white image attached to mental health. No matter what your race, will you challenge the UK’s perception of mental health today?