Depression in the South Asian Community

As an individual born in the UK with a British nationality and Indian ethnicity, I have been brought up to speak, read and write both English and Punjabi. This exposure to Eastern and Western culture and upbringing has resulted in me developing a unique fusion of multiple cultural identities. These rich life experiences influenced the way I began to contemplate the similarities and differences in the presentation of depression within Eastern and Western communities.

Unfortunately, my grandmother was unable to speak fluent English, but she and her children would often present with somatic complaints to their doctor with no organic pathology. Particularly, they experienced problems in describing in Punjabi their fluctuations in mood to health professionals who mainly understood English. As I became older and I developed a broader understanding, I began to question how the trauma of my grandfather’s death due to Operation Blue Star in Amritsar, India in 1984, and the subsequent migration to the UK, affected my grandmother and her children psychologically. Once I began my doctoral training in Counselling Psychology, my interest in these difficulties deepened.

Through research, I identified that South Asian women tend to have the highest rates of depression. Yet they are less likely to report their symptoms to professionals as they believe it is an issue they can cope with themselves, it will get better by itself, feel embarrassed to discuss it with someone, language barriers and out fear of being sectioned. This is turn leads to low rates of referrals for psychological support.

My research identified that the symptoms of depression that Punjabi speaking migrants from India now residing in the UK experience are different compared to their Western counterparts. These symptoms included but are not limited to a sinking heart, feeling sore, body aches, losing interest in attending their holy place of worship, feeling God has lost interest in them and shedding tears.

I believe the solution is education. Firstly, educating the community on the symptoms to look out for, and the support that is available. But also educating health professionals to enhance their cultural knowledge to recognize the difference in presentation. As migration is expected to increase, it is important now more than ever to effectively assess and manage the cultural presentation of depression.

My aim is to be part of the movement to break the stigma attached to mental health in the South Asian community one conversation at a time. One of the ways I do this is by offering a free and private Facebook group for South Asian women. In this group, we have discussions on mental health and I also share tips for self-help.  If you are interested in joining, please do so via my website

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