BBC Online feature on Mental Health taboo in the Asian Community

England cricketer Monty Panesar has fought a public battle with mental health issues. He believes a culture of shame and labelling among the South Asian community is a barrier to others like him accessing help. But why do some in the community struggle with this issue?

Panesar, who has suffered from paranoia and anxiety, is one of the few British Asian celebrities to speak openly about mental health problems.

He was released by Essex County Cricket Club in 2015 and soon after admitted he was struggling to cope.

“The cricketing world was very supportive and understanding,” said the 34-year-old, who is now a mental health ambassador for the Professional Cricketers’ Association.

“But in our Asian community there was no understanding of what mental heath is.

“When you play cricket you want to be perceived as strong, resilient, able to be competitive.

“A lot of young Asians came forward [after I went public] and said, ‘we’re glad you opened up because it’s a huge taboo in our community’.”

The issue was studied in 2010 by Time to Change, a national campaign aimed at ending stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health.

It found South Asians with mental health issues had a distinct experience compared to members of other communities.

The report said mental health was rarely discussed because of the risk it posed to a family’s reputation and status.

Black magic, the will of God or bad parenting were believed to be causes of mental illness. It was also wrongly thought to be passed on through the genes to future generations and seen as an obstacle to arranged marriages as a result.

These pitfalls are all too familiar to former head teacher Manisha Tailor, from north London, whose twin brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

She set up the Mental Health and Football project to help others with mental health conditions that inhibit verbal communication.

But the 36-year-old has not had a welcome response from her community, many of whom have shunned her brother, she said.

“I’ve lost a lot of friends,” she said. “South Asians are quite judgemental.

“As his carer, it was said I would amount to nothing, I wouldn’t get married, who would want to be with me if my brother is like that?

“I would go to weddings and people would snigger and laugh. It’s been a complete nightmare.”


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