Published On: Wed, Jan 9th, 2019

Depression: An Often Denied Fact in Asian Societies

Depression: A mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, numbness and often a general lack of interest in day to day activities. Depression is a mood disorder with several possible causes including a chemical imbalance in the brain; biological, social and emotional stress and sudden life changes.

photo/ Mary Pahlke

Depression is something that’s existed for a long time but it’s only in fairly recent times that we as a society have woken up to the realization that depression does not make someone ‘broken’ and isn’t a  sign that they need to be carted off to an asylum. Mental health disorders in general have been seen as shameful for a long time but as we learn more about the brain and about mental illness, the truth has emerged – that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, that it can’t be controlled (just like physical illness cannot be controlled).

As a society, we have begun to break the stigma attached to mental disorders and those who suffer from these conditions have begun to speak out about their experiences. Visiting a therapist or taking medication is no longer something to be hidden but rather just another way of taking care of your body’s needs which is just as it should be.

Unfortunately, even though there have been great strides in changing the mindset attached to mental illness, in certain societies, that change has been entirely rejected. There are places in the world still, where people with mental illness hide their problems and pretend that nothing is wrong for fear of being chastised, shunned or even told that they’re making their problems up for attention.

In Asian societies specifically, mental illness is still ignored and most often swept under the rug. Should a person find themselves suffering, their route to getting treatment is often secretive and hidden. Trying to be upfront about their medical needs is impossible to even consider due to the negative reactions they would be forced to deal with constantly.

There are bloggers and writers who come from these societies and are trying to change this harmful, damaging and widespread misconception but even they acknowledge that the shame and stigma is still widespread. In fact, this article starts off by reassuring the reader that they are not mad or alone and even acknowledging the reader’s assumed shock!

That drives home the point very clearly – mental illness is still a taboo in several Asian societies, very often more severely in religious circles where the most common refrain is that depression is a sign of losing one’s faith or becoming ungrateful. With this kind of perpetuated mindset, it’s no wonder that people would prefer to live untreated than have to take on that kind of assumption being made about themselves.

photo ijmaki via pixabay

There’s another common reason that mental illness is looked down upon, especially in the homes of  immigrant families or other so-called ‘low-income’ families as depression is commonly linked to laziness by those who are unaware of the physical toll it takes on a body, including specifically causing a persistent lack of energy and feeling of tiredness.

In such families, work ethic and determination are prized qualities because of the struggles first-generation migrants would have faced just to survive in a foreign country, often having to deal with racism and classism. Living in those kinds of conditions could make it difficult to understand the difficulties faced by younger generations who seem to ‘have it all’.

This is perhaps understandable, but it should not be condoned. Education on mental illness is vital, not only for the younger generations who have found themselves struggling but also because many members of those older generations who’ve rejected the attempt to change the perception of mental illness may also be struggling with those same illnesses themselves. It’s all too common for older people to use other outlets as a way to manage their mental illness like alcohol abuse or narcotics. Some people simply accept the side effects of their illness as unchangeable and attempt to adapt until they reach a breaking point. At this time, it’s often too late as the individual has taken their own life out of intense feelings of helplessness and no idea of how to make a way out for themselves.

In short, the two main contributors to rejecting the reality of mental illness in Asian societies are first, a misconception of what religion preaches on the subject and second, a lack of understanding of the side effects of mental illnesses like depression which cause the impression that sufferers are lazy or irresponsible. A re-education is vital, both for future generations and for the many people in these societies who are currently suffering due to a fear of ostracization.

Author: N. Raboobee

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