Tuesday 12th December 2017
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Tamil community

Mental health; the stigma that exists in the Tamil community

According to official reports, one in four people in the world have – or will, at some point in their lives – suffered from mental health problems. Yet, the same statistics tell us that only one-third of those affected ever seek medical treatment. While this is indeed sad news, it is, however, in no way surprising, considering the stigma attached to mental health issues.

Especially in the South Asian room, mental health comes with its own cycle of shame. In light of this, “Thamarai” recently sat down with dentist Dr Andrew Logeswaran to talk about awareness of mental health within the Tamil community.

Although a highly successful dentist by profession – Dr Logeswaran has recently been shortlisted for Best Young Dentist 2016 at The Dentistry & Private Dentistry Awards – his true focus and interest lie in raising mental health awareness.

“I am passionate about dentistry and I take great satisfaction from my profession. I am also very grateful to have been shortlisted as a finalist at the Dentistry Awards – it is a real honour.”

However, despite the shortlisting and his successful career as a dentist, he says that his focus, for some time, has been to raise awareness of mental health issues in the Tamil community.

“Talking about mental health is not easy. Let’s face it. The word ‘mental’ does not conjure up pleasant thoughts in anyone’s mind, does it?

“Mental health is becoming more and more of an issue within the Tamil community. Personally, and through the media, I know of a handful of Tamils who have committed suicide in the past few years due to mental health issues. So why is it so hard to talk about it without feeling shame? It’s easy to discuss an illness that affects our general health like the flu or a broken arm, but what about when our mental health is the target? Why is it so hard to open up and get the necessary help?

“There is so much stigma around mental health – in Western society, but especially in our own community. And because of that feeling of shame and reluctance to talk about the effects of mental health issues, people are too scared to seek help – scared to be treated differently and scared to be made an outcast of society.”

Dr Logeswaran’s campaigning for a better awareness of mental health, however, despite his doctor title, does not come from a medical standpoint but that of a regular person.

“I don’t claim to be a medical doctor. I’m here to speak as someone who has seen people around me suffer in silence. And I’m here as someone who has gone through his own share of problems.

“My first personal experience with mental health was at the age of 15 when I woke up in intensive care after a racially motivated assault against me. I woke up and the first thing I remember seeing is my family – in tears – praying for my life.

“Although the assault left me with very little physical wounds, the trauma of this ordeal took its toll on my mental health. Losing my memories, having to re-learn how to walk and having to miss a large chunk of school were some of the consequences. Following the incident, my parents noticed something in me was different, but I didn’t know what it was or what I should do about it. At that time, my parents decided that I might need professional help, so my GP referred me to a psychologist. Looking back, I can only think of that period as life changing. I feel like my life started again back then.

“Talking about what had happened to me, discussing the traumatic event and its effect on my mental health in an open and supportive environment with a professional helped me immensely. Being able to talk about what had happened to me without shame or embarrassment enabled me to come to terms with everything – my family life, my school life, my social life. From that moment on, everything changed. Without the help received back then, I’m certain I wouldn’t be where I am today. I may have ended up as another tragic and preventable statistic.

And that’s the whole point. Suicide is the biggest danger for people who suffer from mental health issues, but with the right treatment, this can be prevented. There is help available. Just as there is treatment available for a broken arm, there is treatment available for those who suffer from mental health problems.”

The first and arguably the most important step is to start a thoughtful, informed, and open discourse. Especially in our society, where weaknesses are looked down upon and fragilities are mocked, we need to start being more honest and supportive of each other.

“Anyone who has met me after the age of 15 will have no clue about what has happened to me or the effects that incident had on me. This will be the first time my friends will hear about it. For the past 16 years, I have felt ashamed to talk about this openly. But I believe that it’s time to break down those barriers – within me and within our society – and openly discuss mental health.

One thing I realised in my experience with mental health is that it affects not just the person with it, but everyone around them. And on the same note, getting help and treatment early on can lead to a greater quality of life for everyone involved. Not just the person with the illness.

What use is a community if they don’t help you when you need help? What use is a community if they aren’t there to support you when you’re low? No one should feel alone on something that affects everyone.”

For more information on mental health, and where and how to get help, visit http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/translations/tamil.aspx

  • Kayathiri Supramaniam

    Well done for championing this. The main problem I find is the generation before us just don’t get it. They have been through war, devastation, racial slur like most of us will never know and no one talks about it. They just face it in silence. So if we open up about having “issues” in the main it seems like a joke to parents and older people in our community. They’ve been through so much to give us opportunities they never had, so how can we possibly have problems?

    Facing mental illness is the worst place in the world to be. You have this genuine illness that you desperately need help for, but no one else can see. It’s only just being accepted as an illness so can we really blame olders for not “getting it”?

    Bringing shame on the family, doubting whether you really have a problem, will any one actually be able to help are the daily things that run through the mind.

    We are in such a different world to 20-30 years ago and the pressures on everyone daily is immense. Realising you are not alone on the journey if the first part of this puzzle.. us coming together to stop it being a taboo is the next..

    • heysharma

      Kayathiri !!!!
      I noted your mistakenly conceived sarcastic phrase “a joke to parents and older people in our community…|” which triggered fuels to write a response.

      Do you know the definition of MENTAL HEALTH?
      Do you know what causes results in MENTAL HEALTH?

      Mental health deteriorates when the brain run short of LOGICAL CIRCUITS like AND gates OR gates NOR gates etc etc that comes electronic and computer engineering College and University lessons.

      These gates are carefully connected inter-wovenly to make decision making MODULES in our brain like in electronic devices that they copied from our brain behavior.

      These decision making modules in our brain are therefore made up of LOGIC CIRCUITS with various INPUTS and ONE OUTPUT which may or may not be an input to another LOGIC CIRCUIT(s) or may be the final output that commanded one person that a suicide is the best solution because this specific last out put could not be coupled with few more inputs in to another LOGIC MODULE that would have given an out put as not to SUICIDE.

      So if you sit with a GENUINELY QUALIFIED NEUROLOGIST (not with DENTIST) he will say its the lack of LOGIC CIRCUITS (MODULES) in a human brain that ends in decisions WHETHER to feel happy, comfortable, angry, or SHAME, or even commit suicide.

      Then how to build SUFFICIENT OF THESE MODULES in a human brain?
      Your parents NOT ALL BUT MOST, of the past generation, who laugh at you, have large amount of those logic circuits and modules “built in their brainS” which your generation did not construct or build ENOUGHLY so your out put that said to commit suicide did not go through THEIR FEW LOGIC CIRCUITE OR MODULES that would have prevented your suicidal attempt or mental health deterioration.

      Now the question is how can the younger generation improve construction of those missing LOGIC CIRCUITS and LOGIC MODULES used in DECISION makingS that prevent the decision of committing suicide, or leading to DEPRESSION.

      I bet by the time you read this line lastly you felt mentally tortured by me, which should not have happened if your brain is healthy and normal.

      How to develop those LOGIC CIRCUITS and MODULES in our brain to improve mental health is a challenging subject for our weak younger generation & is beyond the scope here. No medicine like for cough or flu, can directly cure MENTAL HEALTH disorder.