Mental Health and the South Asian community in the UK

The Conference focussed on “attitudes to mental health and well being within the Sikh. Punjabi and South Asian communities ….. aimed at understanding and addressing the issues that often affect access to Mental Health services such as stigma, superstition and shame that are known to exist within these communities”. A desired outcome was “the development of a national prevention and early intervention strategy for addressing mental illness in these communities …….to develop best practice in mental health intervention for these communities”. (from Conference brochure).
The feeling seems to be that there is too little research into the situation concerning people originating from the Indian Sub-continent. A report “Mental Health care ‘fails’ Asians” based on Leicester believed that lack of involvement of the health authorities with the community was allowing an increase of suicide among women in particular. Lord Kamlesh Patel expressed the fear that mental health patterns would grow to resemble the situation for African, African Caribbean and dual heritage. He had found a stark lack of basic knowledge and understanding of languages, cultures and religions of Asian people he had spoken to, people who had been in care for many years. How, he asked, could a package of care be put together if this was the case? He noted that care pathways typically differed between different groups.
At the conference speakers referred to the “duty of care” that faith leaders had in educating themselves about mental illness and ns how it affects the community. It was acknowledged that 1 in 4 people were affected from all sections of the community, but cultural patterns of family life in Asian communities require understanding because of the barriers of stigma, superstition and shame stopping access to appropriate treatment: “The Eurocentric model of psychiatrically based mental health services need to fully appreciate and incorporate race, culture, faith and spiritual factors into their formulation of mental health difficulties.” (Sachdev Singh Sayan}.
Kamel Kaur Chahel spoke of current NHS provision in a group of London Boroughs with the introduction of talking therapies. There needs to be a partnership between the Health Service and community “to ensure they are more meaningful and effective to and for these communities”.
Professor Swaran Singh referred to the social context of mental health. Both he and the earlier speaker pointed out the differences between cultural concepts based on the individual in European societies and family structures in Asian societies, pointing out that they had different coping strategies. These are also present in Asian communities and factors exist that can help facilitate recovery as well as hinder.
The issues raised will be looked at in greater depth in the next stage of the Project.

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