Sunitha’s #MadCovidDiaries 15.6.2020
It’s been an intense couple of weeks in the context of world events. It almost feels like it doesn’t feel as important to focus on Covid with the current events happening. Discussing what’s been happening in my life the last few weeks has also seemed unimportant given the situation in the US and a lot of my reflection has been with similar friends of colour, who are also of South Asian heritage. This has allowed me space to discuss the complex internal feelings I have without taking away from the voices I believe need to be heard. Honestly, I kind of want to keep this short about me and try to focus on the things that matter under this context.
For a lot of my white friends, right now, in a strange way, their place in society feels clear. Although the discussions are focused around concepts of white privilege, and how they benefit from systems of white supremacy, I have also seen a few, which lack focus on black voices and somehow, things are all about them. On top of that, seemingly civil people have come out of the woodwork to comment around why they don’t agree with protests during a pandemic, clearly not understanding the urgency. Importantly, I’ve seen a lot of Black people recognise that they also need time to recharge, recuperate and look after their mental health. After all, they know that this is only the beginning.
A week or so ago, I was part of a call discussing the diaries that I’ve written amongst other people with lived experiences or mental health professionals. A theme for me that came up is about the role of extended families and mental health. On one hand, without the support of my extended family right now, my mental health feels like it’s going down the drain. On the other hand, none of them really get that my mental health illnesses are caused by trauma, psychological and otherwise, which makes the understanding superficial at best. Plus the setting of a lot of therapy, completely ignores the complex family structures that exist in South Asian families without just calling it out as outright psychological abuse. Sometimes, I prefer just chatting to my friends with shared experiences at least because it comes from a place of love rather than judgement.
This brings me onto the provisions of mental health for different communities. I can only speak of my experience and looking at the various people within my extended family, there are a lot of people suffering in silence. For example, when my uncle clearly shows signs of depression, it’s almost shrugged off by the family with an attitude that he should stop feeling that way, especially when it’s caused by some existential crisis. For my mum, I see it in how she has developed debilitating anxiety in so many situations caused by long term emotional trauma and is unable to recognise that she wasn’t always this way. This ignores the people who in my family self medicate or have self medicated with alcohol, drugs or the more socially acceptable “work”. In India, over the weekend, a Bollywood actor too their own life and unfortunately, it doesn’t even shock me because what else to expect from a culture where you’re expected to suffer in silence, untreated for years.
In the context of Black Lives Matter, the type of care provided for those from Black communities around mental health needs to be catered for properly. This includes having mental health professionals that are able to understand the racism and associated trauma that shapes these communities. In addition, they need to transform to treat people fairly and recognise the systemic racism that exists within the mental health system. On top of that, whilst the taboos around mental health are changing in wider society, work still needs to be done across BAME communities. In this case, lumping them together illustrates my point but in most cases, the reasons differ widely depending on the community and gender. Because as a South Asian woman, with incredibly supportive parents, if I am too scared to come clean about having a long term mental health illness to my family and wider community, what chance do others have?
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