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The South Asian Guilt; Breaking Stigmas & Accessing Mental Health Support

July is Mental Health Minority month. This month is a call to all mental health clinicians to be accountable for being culturally competent and affirming. With the minority lens, clinicians can provide effective mental health services to people of color. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the minority population has spiked in diversity in the United States over the past twenty years. July brings attention to the gap that exists within the minority, or people of color, community attempting to access mental health services. Majority of the gaps are related to language and cultural barriers. These barriers further reinforce the minority communities’, including the South Asians', silence and feelings of not being heard or understood.

Mental Health Minority month is about bringing awareness to bridge the gaps to services and break stigmas around mental health in the South Asian community. Research by Anand & Cochrane (2005), reveals that South Asians in the US have been found to under utilize mental health services. To help us close the gaps and bridge the barriers, below we will explore the benefits of therapy from a South Asian lens.

As a potential South Asian client, you may find yourself asking the question: What is the difference between talking to a friend versus a therapist? Do I really need a therapist if I can get advice from someone who already cares about me? I’ve come this far on my own, why do I need a therapist now? What will my parents think if I seek professional help?

According to Shakti Therapy & Healing Services, a holistic group practice in Los Angeles, Ca, the first thing to consider is talking to a friend, family member, or a loved one is a reciprocal conversation. This requires you to listen, process their stories, and find a sense of relation with their experiences. Therapy on the other hand, is all about YOU! It is a place where you can be open and feel safe to explore your thoughts and emotions in a helpful manner. This non-judgmental space allows you to fully tap into your inner self and discover intimate parts of you. Therapy gives voice to the parts that you hide from your family and friends due to fear of judgment. Therapy is about figuring out how you want to show up in the world as an authentic person.

Sometimes you may feel like a minority in your own family household or community. Many South Asians are in a unique place where they hold themselves accountable to manage their culture through their parents, all while forming their identity in the western world. This can feel daunting. What does it even mean to be authentic when you are balancing traditional, generational expectations and assimilating into the predominant community. This unique experience you face can alienate you or make you feel different from those you are close to and love. Therapy gives this space a voice and uses this experience to build a balanced authentic self.

Therapy, however, does have an expectation from you; to fully share what is on your mind and be honest with yourself. Ask yourself: how many times have you had the opportunity to really share what is on your mind and speak your truth? There is always the inside voice that keeps you from unveiling your inner most thoughts. Many times you may filter your thoughts in fear of judgement or shame that is tied to the South Asian community and family expectations. For many South Asians, thoughts are also filtered to protect the izzat (honor) of your family. Therapy invites you to confidentially tap into those hidden spaces to cultivate lightness and freedom from them. By shining light in the dark, you begin to build awareness and break the fears. This feels especially important for South Asians who carry generational fears, shame, obligation to protect family izzat, and judgement. Therapy empowers you to break this maladaptive cycle and thought patterns to create a healthier process; a process that lifts your voice, identifies your resilience, and re-defines your limitations as strengths.

Therapy holds a different definition in each community and family household. Finding alignment and re-defining therapy for yourself is important when deciding to embark on this wellness journey. For example, in some South Asian households, parents may see therapy as failure on their part; not providing their son or daughter with love and care. The complexity to unlock doors for mental well-being continue to increase when disclosing your decisions to your parents. It can feel scary and disappointing to tell your parents they did their job well to make you feel secure, protected and emotionally safe, and you still want to seek professional help.

The possible and disheartening responses from parents can discourage you from seeking professional help. The minority mindset permits many South Asians to believe that if something is perceived as negative, it should be brushed under the rug and avoided at all cost to protect the family izzat (honor). This fallacy can be detrimental for your mental health. You may feel you cannot seek professional help because you are disrespecting and failing your family. You may even believe that your parents have suffered more than you, and thus you should be able to endure your mental health challenges on your own. These fallacies further push you away from accessing mental health services. To that I say - pain and struggle are not competitive. Everyone’s experience has value and is worthy of attention, including yours.

When you elevate yourself through the self-responsibility of engaging in therapy, you lift others by breaking stigmas and giving them silent permission to address their own mental well-being. No one can love you into healing, not your parents or your friends, but you can heal yourself into love.

Therapy gives your experience value and worth in a confidential manner. It separates dealing with your emotions and feelings from your everyday life. You are taking control of your emotional and mental well-being by carving out time for it; prioritizing it. It is okay to say you are depressed, anxious, or experiencing a mental health condition. As Brene Brown puts it - though you may feel bad, you are NOT BAD. It is important to not self actualize shame and realize it is a behavior. Behaviors can be changed. You are NOT a bad person for feeling guilt as a South Asian. You are not a bad person for needing or wanting therapy; actually, therapy can help you unveil this misconception. As South Asians, it is important to celebrate your resilience and shine light into what you have been conditioned to tuck away into the dark. When you do this, you stop the ancestral cycle of trauma, heal yourself, and the community.

Ektha Aggarwal is a licensed South Asian Therapist and CEO of Shakti Therapy and Healing Services in Los Angeles, CA. Ektha specializes in working with South Asians / Desi and people of color to break the stigma around mental health and instill the concept of immigrant resilience. If you are ready to feel empowered, effortlessly achieve your goals, and feel more happiness in your life, schedule a complimentary consultation now.


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