Mental Health Issues, Addictions and Challenges faced by South Asian immigrants

One of the more common challenges typically faced by the members of the South Asian community is the difficulty and challenges they face in adapting themselves to the changed circumstances and new environment after they arrive in  the  land of their choice, Canada. There is reason to believe that this leads to family discords and other psychological and social strains and in some cases even leads to break up of families.

The non fulfillment of the social needs and inability to communicate in English adequately in some cases leads to depression initially in certain cases and possibly to other conditions later.  The other factor that adds to the strain are issues arising out of the huge generation gap between parents whose personalities have developed over the years in South Asia deeply ingrained in those values and their children who adapt themselves so naturally to the Canadian Environment in a relatively short period of time, influenced as they are by their peers and other external influences.

This makes the parents totally helpless, frustrated and disappointed with their children when they try to ‘educate’ their children with ideas which they believe to be right and good. This and other such factors inevitably leads to a chaotic situation within the family with the elders not having the wherewithal to cope with the challenges they have been least prepared for. It is not out of place here to mention that such frustration compounded by other social and psychological factors leads to addiction seen as an easy escape mechanism to avoid problems.

Here it would be pertinent to take note of the distinction between the different categories of immigrants. Immigrants who have come on the points based skill category who are mostly professionals AND immigrants who have managed to reach the shores of Canada as refugees. In the latter case, it is much harder for them to adapt themselves to the society, handicapped as they are more due to language limitations. While professional immigrants manage to stay afloat even if they have some initial teething troubles mostly without getting into any kind of mental health issues, the same is not true in the case of refugee immigrants, so to say.

As compared to immigrants from other parts of the world such as the Caribbean, Africa, Eastern Europe or Latin America, South Asians are very different culturally which perhaps makes it harder for them to assimilate themselves into the Canadian Society with ease.  This again leads to greater difficulties in being accepted in a Canadian workplace.

Now, I think even among the South Asian immigrants, a difference needs to be made between the South Asian Chinese immigrants or immigrants from other countries such as Vietnam, Koreas, Indonesia, Kampuchea, China and the South East Asian immigrants from countries such as India, Srilanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

While the Chinese and immigrants from such other countries seem to find it easier to find their feet in the Canadian society relatively easier, the same cannot be said of the South Asian immigrants for whatever reason. While I do not have any empirical evidence to prove this, the above statement even to a naked eye appears to be true.

In the case of South East Asians, the taboos and cultural mental blocks and the relative lack of awareness or consciousness in the South East Asian societies about mental health issues and the still mostly primitive approach with which the issues are handled in South East Asian societies except in developed cities, all make it more challenging for the immigrants from these countries to appreciate the finer nuances of these issues. The social support that has hitherto been the bulwark for them in their home countries is not available to them any more and this perhaps leads to problems in mental health such as depression.

It is no wonder that alcohol addiction is conveniently resorted to as an easy defense mechanism.  While there are many community services available for the members of the South East Asian communities such as settlement services, the one thing that is indeed glaring by the absence of it is the following:

Free or subsidized competent professional clinical counseling services for the members of this community affected by mental health. While there are indeed counselors and social workers available, systematic professional counseling is not available and there seems to be a dearth of Psychologists available to do the same without any cost to the members and I think this is the need of the hour as this will go a long way in minimizing the adverse effects of mental illnesses.

Similarly Recreation Therapy should be encouraged and administered in greater measure and funding should be made available for the same. Except CAMH, I am not aware of any other agency providing the same. Recreation Therapy would be a very effective supplement as well.

In conclusion, systematic and imaginative efforts at greater integration of the South Asian community members with the Canadian society and its universal values will go a long way in minimizing the mental health issues so prevalent among its members.

For this to be achieved there needs to be a much greater appreciation of the South East Asian culture and the limitations of the same and the factors from that culture that impede the easier integration of the South East Asian immigrants which otherwise lead them astray with lots of mental health issues.

Shankar Swaminathan

One Response to “Mental Health Issues, Addictions and Challenges faced by South Asian immigrants”
  1. Mavrick says:

    Great post!

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