Experiences with Counselling for Individuals Within the South Asian Community II: Methodology, Stories and Analysis
by Alisha Mann, MPsy
This series was originally completed as a Major Research Project in partial fulfillment of Adler Graduate Professional School’s Master of Psychology degree.
Although the stories were presented separately, they share many similarities.
Demographically, all participants were between the ages of 20 and 30. They all pursued university after high school, and all were formally educated within a Westernized culture. None of the participants were ever admitted to a mental health facility or hospital for their concerns, and all chose to actively seek the help they wanted. Also, all participants described being raised in a culturally dual environment, with some experiencing greater mixtures than others. Most importantly all the experiential stories informed the actual question: What change(s) allowed these South Asian individuals to seek and participate in counselling?
The following triad of changes was noted:
- Awareness of symptoms
- Awareness of support
- Awareness of resources
This is not an extensive list, by any means, and although other factors were influential in their decisions, these helped create potential dialogue about the changes associated and the experience of counselling. The above changes were informed by education, cultural ideations, religious means, and hegemonic gender processes involved in autonomous decision making within the South Asian community.
Awareness of Symptoms
This change was important, as gaining insight into the symptoms of a mental health concern allows individuals to seek appropriate help, just as seeing a doctor for a medical concern. Vik stated, “I started realizing that something was not right in my mind. You know, it was like I was sad when things were bad … but when things were good I also wasn’t happy … and I started realizing something was wrong.” Amy also reported an awareness of her symptoms, as she stated “When you don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning, or going out with your friends … like it was stopping me from doing things that I used to do on a daily basis.” On the other hand, Sara indicated that “problems at home, feeling lack of freedom, transient panic attacks, and insomnia” were problem areas she with which was having difficulty coping. Overall, all participants were able to identify their symptoms and relate them back to a mental health concern, which in turn was a part of allowing them to seek counselling.
Education appears to affect this change in awareness, as all participants initially learned of mental health symptoms and concerns in a formal educational setting. The data show that those who are not aware of the indicators might have a difficult time seeking the appropriate help. Sara stated, “People don’t understand depression, so people cover it up … and that becomes a bigger problem … they might end up in the hospital, because of medical reasons … but mental health is never looked at.” Similarly, as Amy initially felt, if someone is unsure whether their symptoms are “big enough,” they may not seek the help they require. She stated, “When your [family member] has [illness], there is not much anyone can say to make you feel better” (Amy). However, she indicated that understanding her symptoms allowed her to seek help, as she “knew they [therapists] could give me advice … can’t make it go away … but at least help a little.” An understanding of these symptoms appears to be related to education, as all participants initially learned of mental health diagnoses while in school and did not necessarily discuss concerns at home.
This awareness also appears to be influenced by cultural notions in that something culturally appropriate for one culture may not be for another. As Sara pointed out, “In our culture, it is common for men to sit and drink every night … so what might be considered a drinking problem may not look like [one] … so they may not get help for it.” As such, a symptom may not be acknowledged if it is a common practice within the culture. When Sara initially discussed counselling with her immediate family, she stated, “They were shocked and surprised that there was even a problem.” Also, Vik pointed out that his awareness is based on the culture he was raised in, while his parents’ awareness was based on their cultural upbringing. He stated, “[Parents] don’t understand that I’m from a completely different culture than [them].” Thus, the influence of acculturation was seen through raising awareness about normal functioning within the general community and as an influence on the awareness of mental health symptoms.
Participants were unanimous in noting that educational efforts would be fruitful in helping South Asian individuals become more aware of their symptoms. They also indicated that this awareness was the first sign that they may require help. Social media, “like Facebook … parents are huge on Facebook these days” (Vik), may assist with educational programs. As such, the change in awareness of symptoms appears to affect someone’s motivation to seek help, which in turn was influenced by education and cultural norms.