For Indian-American men, mental wellbeing is vital | The Indian SCENE

For Indian-American men, mental wellbeing is vital

There is absolutely no shame in asking for help.

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It was right around this time of year, many, many years ago, that I took my first real steps into the world of mental health as a psychology student. Over time, I learned about psychopathology, abnormal behaviors, mental illnesses, societal pressures, cultural influences and more on mental health. One of the things that stuck with me is the tidbit of “wisdom” that men report the most satisfaction in their lives when they are employed, married and with children. It was an odd little point that stuck in my mind, one that came up in several classes, one I had to regurgitate over and over again on tests.

But as we go through “No Shave November,” a movement started in honor of men’s health awareness, I am certain that the tidbit from many years ago doesn’t do men — especially Indian-American men — justice. South Asian men, regardless of their location, are born with the expectation to be on a very prescribed trajectory in life: have fun until you get a job, be the protector of the family, be the primary income earner, handle the finances, handle stress, take care of your family, and always be prepared for emergencies. The most critical part in this trajectory, the man and his self, takes little priority.

Everywhere I travel, I see Indian-American men spending more time in gyms grunting away to relieve stress, rather than addressing the root of the inadequacies, incompetencies and disconnect they may be feeling. I’m not knocking exercise at all; after all, it is a necessary and important part of wellbeing, but there is also a lot more to wellbeing than going to the gym every day. Though I usually focus on women’s issues, I wanted to write for all the brown men in my life, and in the world around me.

Whether you are married, single, with or without children, employed to any degree or not, your mental wellbeing is a crucial component to living a well-balanced life. It is critical for you, and everyone who is fortunate to be a part of your life. So please remember that mental health is about a lot more than illness or working out. Just as our physical health encompasses a lot more than flu and cold treatments, so does mental health. Especially as Indian-Americans, when we think of mental health, we tend to think of illnesses, and attach a stigma to talking about our problems. But mental health is so much more complex than that — especially men’s mental health.

We are taught that boys are tough and boys don’t cry and show emotion because that’s a sign of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our mental wellbeing affects every aspect of our life. Our health is the one asset we take into every single situation in life with us. We can’t separate it from ourselves. It dictates our identity, work ethic, energy, leadership styles and leadership skills. Our wellbeing is what allows us to grow, as people. When we think about it in this depth, we can clearly see that taking control of our own mental wellbeing by mastering our emotions is the only true path to real inner strength, stability and peace of mind. But we are not taught this amid our multi-cultural pressures and expectations.

Think of your mental health outside of illness, and reframe it as a whole ecosystem that helps you thrive. Start thinking of ways to take care of yourself beyond the gym, like meditation or developmental coaching.

Men go through many of the mental wellbeing rollercoasters that women do; they just express and manifest these ups and downs differently. How often do you have candid conversations about what you are going through, whether with your partner, your friends or any other men around you? For most of the men I know, the answer to this question would sadly be, “almost never.” This is something that should and can change, immediately. There are support groups available online and locally in the metro-Detroit area dedicated to various men’s causes. If you don’t want to join a formal group, you could start an informal one with a few of your friends. People like me are out here as qualified resources with tools to help you with exactly these types of things. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help when you feel like you have been given a list of expectations and demands on your time and sanity that go far beyond what you think you can deliver.

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3 thoughts on “For Indian-American men, mental wellbeing is vital”

  1. Kanu (KC) Mehta

    In April 2019. I attended a seminar called:

    “Challenging Mental Health Stigmas in South Asian Communities”, organized by the South Asian Women’s Association in East Lansing, Michigan

    Few of my takeaways from the seminar were:

    • One in three, in general population in the US, suffer from some kind of the mental illness.

    • There are hundreds of thousands of undocumented Asian immigrants, and they suffer from the mental illness disproportionately as they are afraid to seek help.

    • On college campuses, Asian girls more readily seek help through the counseling services available on the campus vs. the Asian boys. Boys seek help when they are almost on the verge of suicidal tendencies.

    • When students seek help on college campuses, many of them ask the counselors not tell their parents.

    • The reluctance on the part of young South Asians (Indian, Pakistanis, Sri Lankan, etc.) to come out in open about mental illness is they may not be chosen as suitable partner to marry, as so-called arranged marriages are still a norm in the South Asian culture.

    • And on the part of older South Asian people to seek or hide their mental illness is: it could be that their children may not be able to find a suitable partner to marry.

    In my view, until these cultural stigmas and taboos are well understood, discussed and resolved first, it may be a long time before mental illness among Asians can be addressed with honesty, openness and objectivity.

    Kanu (KC) Mehta

  2. Dr. Jeedigunta touched upon and defined the issues of mental illness but stopped there. I, as a problem-solving engineer, was trained to understand and solve any problem by finding the underlying root causes. This we do by asking, “5-WHYs?” When solving any problem, if you repeatedly ask WHY? five times, you are bound to come to the root cause of the problem. Most of the time you arrive at you answer after two or three WHYs?

    In April 2019. I attended a seminar called: “Challenging Mental Health Stigmas in South Asian Communities”, organized by the South Asian Women’s Association in East Lansing, Michigan.

    Few of my takeaways and WHYs from the seminar were:

    • One in three, in general population in the US, suffer from some kind of the mental illness.

    • There are hundreds of thousands of undocumented Asian immigrants, and they suffer from the mental illness disproportionately as they are afraid to seek help.

    • On college campuses, South Asians girls from Indian, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc. seek help more readily through the counseling services available on the campus vs. the South Asian boys. Boys seek help when they are almost on the verge of suicidal tendencies.

    • When South Asian students seek help on college campuses, many of them ask the counselors not tell their parents.

    • The reluctance on the part of young South Asians to come out in open about mental illness is they may not be chosen as suitable partner to marry, as so-called arranged marriages are still a norm in the Asian culture.

    • And on the part of older South Asians to hide their mental illness is, it could be that their children may not be able to find a suitable partner to marry.

    Finally, I have observed that in the South Asian culture, societal pressure and family reputation is very important. Before doing something unsavory or not behaving in a certain prescribed manner, people always think : Log Kya Kahenge? (What will other people think?) This “What will other people Think” syndrome, in turn, becomes one of the root causes of hiding mental illness and not seeking help. What this does is that the person with the mental illness does not get proper treatment and get well soon, but others in the family, who are reluctant to address the issue, have a boomerang effect that they themselves are prone to becoming a victim of the mental illness.

    In my view, until these cultural stigmas and taboos are well understood, discussed and resolved first, it may be a long time before mental illness among Asians can be addressed with honesty, openness and objectivity.

    Kanu (KC) Mehta

    1. Dr. Aparajita Jeedigunta

      Thank you for your insightful commentary, Kanu Mehta! As a social psychologist and a certified professional coach, I live in the “why” every moment I am either with clients or doing research. I agree with your analysis of the “log kya kahenge” mentality. I covered that exact point, and other points in previous articles here in the Indian Scene magazine and in several other online blogs and articles as well so I didn’t do so in this piece. There are also more articles on mental health and well being coming up in the future. This article was intentionally crafted to bring more exposure to Indian American men and mental health, while adhering to the scope, format and word limit criteria of the magazine.

      I appreciate your feedback and I appreciate your analysis and emphasis of the “why” very much. I would be very interested to continue this discussion with you, if you are so inclined. Please feel free to email me.

      – Dr. J

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