We need to talk about racism and mental health.
Mind trustee Mandeep blogs about the lack of culturally competent care for her mother and the impact of racial trauma.
Content warning: mention of ECT, racial and intergenerational trauma
I have only one memory of the first five years of my childhood. It was a sunny day, and I was in the park with my parents and maternal grandparents. I was playing, and my mum seemed sad and withdrawn. She was in a blue dressing gown and slippers. It wasn’t until much later in life I learned this memory was when my mum was in a mental health institution receiving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for clinical depression.
As well as this being my first childhood memory, it’s also the first memory I have of my mum experiencing depression and anxiety. Growing up at a time when there was a lack of understanding and empathy about poor mental health, and also a lack of proficient culturally competent care, meant that there was little support for my mother. As a result, alongside my father, I became one of my mother's main carers, without any external support. This changed how I experienced the world as a young child, and one of the ways my mind chose to cope was to bury my earliest memories.
“During my childhood there was very little discussion of mental health in society, including in the South Asian community”.
Early on in life, I positioned myself as being responsible for my mum’s happiness and did all that I could to ensure she didn’t get depressed. In my most formative years, I took up the position of being a carer, problem-solver and a good listener for both my parents. At the time, I didn’t know I was doing this, nor did I know I couldn't stop my mum being depressed. Hypervigilance and worry were constant states of my being. I never knew what each day would bring. Would my mum be sad, crying, or suicidal or would she be happy and able to care for me safely? And in the moments we laughed and found joy, I always knew it would not last. I worried for my dad and watched him do his best to lovingly care for mum, at a time when there was very little discussion of mental health in society, including in the South Asian community.
This impacted on my mental health from a very young age and was compounded by my experiences of racism. As a second-generation South Asian girl, I grew up feeling I had less value in society and that anyone who looked like me or my parents were perceived as not belonging in the UK. I experienced racism on a daily basis, including often being told to go back home.
Denied a feeling of safety
I learned quickly to expect the possibility of racist abuse whenever I left my house. Whether it was at school, going to buy an ice cream, playing with friends or going for a walk with my parents, a carefree moment could quickly turn into a moment of fear. I recognised quickly that feelings of comfort, safety and wellbeing were not afforded to me. I was confused and destabilised, which hugely informed how I navigated the world.
Now, as a second-generation South Asian woman, my lived experience has given me a deep understanding of the impact of marginalisation, poor mental health, and racial and intergenerational trauma, and how they intersect. I’m not socially positioned to experience comfort and joy easily in any aspect of my life - joy was not my birthright. These experiences have taught me so much. I still care deeply, am a problem solver and a good listener. I have chosen to use my experiences to create a more hopeful and equitable space for marginalised communities in my work and in my life. An integral part of my healing has been sharing and allowing the space to discuss lived experience and address systemic racism with people of colour. Community has enabled me to find my voice.
“People from racialised communities are more likely to experience a mental health problem, but less likely to receive the help they need.”
This is why Mind’s anti-racism work is so significant. People from racialised communities are more likely to experience a mental health problem, but less likely to receive the help they need. My story is an example of this and clearly highlights the intrinsic connection between mental health and identity.
I often wonder how my mother’s mental health would have been if she had access to care that understood the diverse and multifaceted experiences of South Asian women; care that isn't based on imposed views and stereotypes. So much more work needs to be done to ensure racialised communities receive appropriate and equitable mental health support and care, which is why I feel grateful to be part of leading Mind’s anti-racism work.
Over 40 years later, my mother continues to manage her depression and anxiety, and she does this with great courage and wisdom. She has worked hard to understand and manage her condition, but there are still times when she struggles to do this. My father and I continue to support her.
Holding a space for care and kindness
We still don’t hear much about South Asian families talking about mental health, but we do, mine does, we have chosen to. We are extremely open with each other about our mental health. I am grateful to be part of a family that treats mental health with kindness, patience and care, and without stigma. It's been a long journey to get here, and I want this for everyone. With equitable competent care and support, I believe we can achieve this and am glad to be part of this journey with Mind.
Information & Support
When you’re living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information - about a condition, treatment options, or practical issues - is vital. Visit our information pages to find out more.
Share your story with others
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.