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How I learnt to talk to my parents about mental health

Wednesday, 17 January 2024 Aarav

Although there are no clear-cut Punjabi words for stress, anxiety and depression, Aarav found a way of communicating.

Many of us spend more time at work than with our friends or families. I am one of them. It’s always been important to me to find a workplace where I feel included, to work with people I like and to feel a sense of job satisfaction.

I have been working for over half my life in different industries. I have had my fair share of stress, burnout and experienced toxic workplace cultures. Common contributors have included being overworked, feeling uncertain about expectations from management, feeling excluded with co-workers, pervasive office gossip, or struggling in communicating my own boundaries. Bullying is a real problem in the workplace, and it can decrease your sense of psychological safety. This can result in significant problems such as reduced self-esteem, increased susceptibility to mental health symptoms like anxiety, and higher rates of burnout.

“How was I going to tell them my parents I was more irritable than usual? Why was I unusually quiet?”

When I have felt stressed or anxious about work, I did not know how best to explain it to my parents. For a long time I hid it and carried on with work, too embarrassed to share my struggle and bullying I was facing at work. My parents are from that generation where you keep your head down, work hard with minimal or no complaints. How was I going to tell them why I was more irritable than usual? Why was I unusually quiet? Why didn’t I want to go work on a Monday?

Being a first generation British South Asian, mental health is not commonly discussed in my community. There are no clear-cut words for stress, anxiety or depression in Punjabi. I wanted to shed light on the fact that mental health is not scary or for crazy/mad (pagal in Punjabi) people. There are solutions and support available for anyone out there struggling, regardless of your age, gender or ethnicity.

Opening up about emotions

It’s easy to judge others, but it’s hard to open up about your own emotions. One morning I struggled to sleep and I went downstairs to my kitchen at 6am where I saw my dad sitting at the breakfast counter. He asked why was I up so early? That’s when I blurted all of my work stresses. I explained how I felt and how anxious I felt about going to work. My father listened, he said he wished I had told him sooner then he could have helped me before it got to this stage.

He proceeded to tell me a story about a woman who was poor in our neighbourhood in India and the house she lived in. He gave me a different perspective of life and how important it was to be grateful for everything else in my life. There are people worse off than us, and I realised how I kept fixating on the negative. I have so much to be grateful for and work is only a small aspect of my life.

Then my mother walked in with incense sticks, doing her morning routine. She said she could tell my job is too stressful because I was grumpier in the mornings and I wasn't eating much. She said she would be happier if I left. She reminded me that if I decided to leave my job, I didn’t have to worry about the money because that will come. You can’t buy time or new people – life is too short and all you can do is focus on the present moment.

“What I have learnt from my parents is that I can't control every situation, but I can control my response.”

What I have learned from my parents is that I can’t control every situation, but I can control my response, my perspective, and my attitude.

They have also taught me the importance of talking to people about problems. Talk to someone you trust, someone who supports you, someone who loves you. If you’re not blessed to have someone to confide in, then write your feelings or problems down in a journal. Then write a list of objects or people you are grateful for. I hope you feel a sense of relief. It’s the age old saying, a problem shared is a problem halved.

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