Mental Health Literacy in South Asia

Laraib Ahmad, BA (National College of Arts, Rawalpindi)

Mental health illnesses and treatments in South Asian countries are different beasts. It is not horizontal; vertical cross-sections are required.

South Asia is one of the fastest-growing economies and is home to approximately 25% of the world’s population. While we remember that it hosts a spectrum of cultures, we often forget the influence of so many languages on communicating illnesses, adapting or rejecting treatments. Understanding mental health in South Asia is understanding ever-evolving languages. Whether resource allocation or just general ignorance at all levels, the current situation requires a different type of investment in addition to scaling up the workforce or direct financial support.

South Asia is also becoming industrial and a converging point for emerging technologies. As we are developing at an exceptional rate, both scientific and educational, we shouldn’t forget that old fears and habits die hard. As languages and cultures change, flourish or disintegrate, so will the expression of mental health. The cultural context of mental health has to show in political policymaking. The vernacular must be involved in the global.

The parents cannot sympathize because they have never been taught to, so the children won’t realize the importance of emotional mastery. Consumerism has taken deep holds, and in the race, teachers don’t feel, which is followed by students who are overwhelmed when they see mental illness in a semester that doesn’t have space for it.

(Image Source: iStock | solarseven)

If a psychiatry department in any institute exists, it operates within the domain and department of medicine, which is often perfunctory. We cover advocation, promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation in languages and methods that have little to do with our environments.

Improving the cognitive behaviors of our communities is probably one of our highest burdens, and under the weight of us pretty much ignoring it, we have unnecessarily lost too much.

From an ethnographic approach, culture will always play a role in determining the normal and abnormal. The literacy on mental health in south Asian communities runs parallel to identifying attitudes. In the diverse set of South Asia, informal or professional, organized interpretations of traditional beliefs in local languages, in a variety of cultural circumstances, are vital.

Systems and treatments are always universal, but the expression and understanding of conditions always vary. For example, ethnic groups in Sri Lanka don’t use the word depression in their vocabulary.

In most South Asian countries, ‘depression’, ‘mental illness’ and ‘anxiety’ are used by English speaking groups. The lay person’s ability to recognize their mental health and then ask for help doesn’t necessarily comply with the standards. In addition, mental health professionals are unfamiliar with traditional beliefs and vocabularies therefore they face difficulty in translating such attitudes and expressions of mental disorders. Prevention in future will always be out of the window here.

The positive association with treatment and rehabilitation always be out of the window as long as a person living in South Asia doesn’t feel understood. We can see its effects in behaviors forming links to black spirits or the supernatural.

The current situation of research on the vocabulary of mental health in South Asian countries is poor. Be its laws and regulations, teacher and parent training. We have never prioritized local languages and attitudes, and as a result, we see highly developed insecurities and frighteningly underdeveloped emotional competence. While it is a challenge to obtain local information on expressions of mental health, let alone accurate information, it is necessary for devising approaches and programs.

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