Asian Women and Mental Health
Mental illness is common and 1 in 4 people will, at some point in their lives, be affected. Asian women are particularly vulnerable due to the high level of responsibilities and expectations of them such as preserving honour of the family, maintaining tradition and culture, restrictions, sacrificing their happiness for others, suffering in silence, caring for children, in laws, spouse, house etc. Asian women between the ages of 15-35 are two to three times more vulnerable to suicide and self-harm than their non-Asian counterparts. However, mental health problems are likely to go unreported and untreated in Asian / Muslim women and girls because they are reluctant to engage with mainstream health services or they do not know where to seek help for mental health problems.
Causes of Mental Illness in Asian Women
Mental health problems
are often a result of struggling with emotional problems and feeling
there is no one to turn to with whom problems can be shared because:
- There is expectation from community, family and friends to suffer in silence despite the enormity of problems. To speak out against abuse and suffering and to report to the police is viewed as bringing shame on to the family
- Women are often blamed for any problems within the family regardless of who is culpable.
- Gossip that may result if help is sought from the GP particularly if the GP or staff at the surgery are from the same community.
- Language barriers preventing access to services
- Social isolation
- Lack of culturally sensitive services especially counselling services
of problems that cause Asian women and girls to self harm include:
bullying at school; racism / discrimination; sexual abuse (including
child sexual abuse and marital rape); forced marriage; inequality /
oppression in the family; domestic violence; emotional abuse; lack of
financial control; migration and loss of culture and family; problems
with in-laws; marital problems, children (including pressure to have
sons); health; perception of bringing shame and dishonor to the family,
polygyny, religious pressures, being carers for family members, and
Mental Health - Cultural and Religious Beliefs
Mental illness is a taboo subject in Asian communities, meaning there is little open discussion about mental health problems. This is due to the culture of hiding all types of problems to prevent bringing shame and protecting the reputation of the family. Also many do not believe that a mental health problem is a medical condition that can be managed and treated professionally. Instead there can be a heavy reliance on self-administered therapy such as praying and relying on God to heal or to visit a spiritual healer. While religious beliefs and spirituality can have a positive influence on mental well being, professional medical help also needs to sought. Also a person's spirituality can vary throughout their life and pressurising individuals to follow religious practices when they don't want to can add to the problem.
Importance of Culturally Sensitive Services
As Asian women are reluctant to share their problems with family and friends, counselling can be an essential service for them and if given during the early stages of a mental health illness, it can help prevent mental health from deteriorating further. Unfortunately some counselling services are not culturally sensitive and have little understanding of an individual's cultural and family pressures.