We are in an era where people are encouraged to speak their minds and be expressive in the way they dress, speak or live; however, to this day, not everyone may find it easy to speak about mental health. Renown comedian, Paul Chowdhry, née Tajpaul Singh Chowdhry, suffered from depression which he terms as being an “on and off battle”.
In an interview to the media, “I think sometimes people laugh at stuff within the Asian community without fully understanding some of the pressures and pain behind it. Mental health problems aren’t discussed in the Asian community really. We don’t even have a word for it. Across all those Indian languages, there isn’t one that actually has a word for depression or anxiety. You’re seen as a mad man, really. I suppose within the Asian community there is a natural stand-off between fact and fiction. Facts mean education, stability, a good job, you know. Fiction means fantasy. Because mental health is something that you can’t quantify – it’s happening in someone’s head – I think maybe Asians and Indians struggle with that abstract concept a bit.”
The comedian talks about how anxiety around status, especially amongst Asian men, form the basis for mental health issues. He said, “The pressure against blokes is definitely stacked. Take education, for example. Even with private tuition, I wasn’t that academic personally. That’s frowned upon. At school you’re expected to get 10 A*s even if you only did five subjects.”
He believes these anxieties stem from “constant comparisons with relatives, family friends or even people you don’t know. It’s not healthy. If you get told ‘Mr Kumar’s son has got 15 GCSEs’ or ‘Mr Patel’s son is a doctor’ all the time, it’s not going to do you any good. If you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people, when do you figure out what you want for yourself?”
Born in 1974, Paul Chowdhry lost his mother at the age of 5. The death of his mother impacted him more as an adult. He believes grief is another issue that the Asian community needs to do something about. Speaking about his personal experience, he said, “I think as a kid you don’t really get it anyway. You just assume they’re going to come back. My understanding was that mum’s just gone to sleep. As I’ve got older, obviously I’ve been more inclined to have the conversations I wasn’t able to back then. But like I said, the pushback from an Asian family is in that they don’t want to get caught up in all this unquantifiable emotional stuff. Because the answers aren’t straightforward, not even a little bit. Asian families don’t want uncomfortable issues. Maybe white families wear their hearts on their sleeves a bit more. Maybe we could learn from that.”
Paul doesn't think the taboo or the lack of understanding of mental health is only with the Asian community. He also urges people to talk more about how they're really feeling with their loved ones. He said, “In fairness, I don’t think that the need for understanding mental health problems better is an issue specific to the Asian community, but maybe there’s some more work to be done there. I do think right now there is a readiness to over-medicate people generally. I know people who have gone to a doctor after a break-up and been given anti-depressants. I think that’s a dangerous game. I think people need to know that they have got more control – or at least the capacity to control – their own minds. And they should do that, for a start, by being able to talk more about how they’re feeling, really feeling, with their families.”