By Sumaya Ahmed
Why is mental health so taboo in the Bangladeshi culture? Why is anxiety and depression deemed to be something to be kept secret among family members? There are so many moments that come to mind that edify how unmentionable mental health is in our culture.
I remember the time my friend’s younger brother who was 23yrs old at the time, said he wanted to start seeing a therapist. When the news was shared with his mother, she so quickly asked “why does he need to see a therapist, what’s wrong with him?” My friend explained that nothing was wrong, it’s just helpful to speak to a third party about ourselves and our stressors. The mother then asked, “why can’t he talk to me about his problems.” “Well what if you’re part of the problem mom,” my friend replied. “Well then he can talk to you about it,” the mother said. All these solutions in mind, yet seeing a therapist seemed forbidden?
Another time I was at a Bangladeshi family event and one of the family members arrived hours late and everyone asked why she took forever to come and she quickly responded, “I overslept.” Minutes later, she took me aside and told me she was arriving from her therapy appointment. Why has our culture enabled us to keep our therapy appointments a secret? Aren’t we supposed to feel comfortable to share our emotions and what we’re going through with our loved ones?
From these moments one thing has become very apparent, mental health is something not discussed, considered unmentionable, and not addressed at all in the Bangladeshi community. I have recognized the lack of mental health education for Bangladeshis, especially for those who are 50 years or older. But why is it like this?
The more I listen to conversations revolving around anxiety or depression among the 50+ year old Bangladeshis, the more I realize how much more mental health education is needed in our culture. Throughout the years, I have however seen a positive evolution revolving around this topic. I believe our community is becoming more aware of how prominent anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders are in our community. What’s important to note, is that although they are recognizing the existence of these issues, they are still unaware that most of them need mental health help themselves.
I believe it is important to mention how serious these topics are and how imperative it is that we educate our Bangladeshi parents, neighbors, our aunts and uncles who are all so dismissive about mental health issues. I believe as we heal, it is important to heal our parents and those in the 50+ age group who have lived most of their lives without even realizing the mental trauma they carry in their day to day lives or the mental health issues they struggle with daily and have made it their norm.
As a generation that does understand these issues, let’s be the ones to break these generational curses that prevent our Bangladeshi elders to speak about mental health. Let’s remove the idea of this topic being taboo and enable our elders to understand the importance of being educated on anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health concerns. Let’s help our Bengali mothers see how they can quickly determine which friends aren’t right for us, yet fail to recognize their own child’s struggle with anxiety or depression. Let’s also make them understand that living a stressful life is not the definition of a “hard-worker” and is instead the root of most health problems.
My only hope for the coming years and the generations to come is that one day these mental health conversations will easily be spoken amongst the Bangladeshi community. It starts with us, it starts with you.