Depression in the Punjabi community
Depression in the Punjabi community
The following email was sent to me by a family friend about 6 years after my father passed away. I've kept it all these years hoping that one day I might be able to share it.
As it's Mental Health Awareness Week I have decided that this week is the perfect opportunity to share it amongst not only my own Punjabi community, but the wider public too.
At the time, this email really did add to my story. As much of what is expressed was also touched upon in 'My Father & The Lost Legend of Pear Tree'. Obviously I've had to redact some information from the original email to exclude names and other personal information.
Thank you to my family friend for allowing me to share their experiences.
"Hi Kal, I would like to share a time when your dad came to my mum's house. I believe it was in Dec 2005. 3 months before he left us all, I can remember walking in and seeing your dad sitting down talking to my mum. I said hello how are you? He said that his head hurts and that he doesn't feel too good and he has been to the doctors, but the doctor did not know what it could be, possibly thinking it was to do with his head injury in the past.
On previous visits to the house he had mentioned his head and the fact that he was taking medication in the form of anti depressants.
I then said to your dad that the medication can make you feel like that, I however did know as I too have been taking them and suffered symptoms. I started taking them back in 2000 when I started feeling physical symptoms of anxiety. Not knowing what it was I went to the GP who also did not know what I was suffering, but put me on anti depressants and beta blockers. At that time I did not know too much about these meds but just started taking them.
Being an Asian man you find it hard to explain to others what you are suffering – call it pride or just being too ashamed. It took me nearly 1 year before I told my wife and 2 years, before I told all my family, which made me feel a lot better. I believe your dad found it hard to explain what he was suffering, like I said, pride, too ashamed. It has been over ten years for me now; I have tried all types of anti depressants and suicidal thoughts play a big part in these meds. I however at that time didn't suffer too much depression because my problem is only anxiety, but I did feel suicidal with the meds. I have since experienced my worst ever depression about 4 years ago, as I was off meds for a year but had a relapse in my anxiety and started meds again, which put me in to severe depression.
Depression is very hard to cope with I still do suffer but not as bad. If only I had tried to explain to your dad more that time, but I believe we all could have tried to understand. I am strong as I have learnt to cope, but your dad found it to hard to share his thoughts – he didn't even want to talk to me when I asked him – like I said, PRIDE.
Also your dad said that he has stopped drinking because of the meds, I didn't personally agree with that. The reason is that your dad was a social drinker, not heavy unlike me them days. But that didn't stop me – meds can help you out of depression but can also put you in, like me. What helped me was that I continued with my life, so depression doesn't take over, however, your dad decided to stop as the GP said to. But that also took a lot from your dad because he liked going to the Chestnut Pub. I know it's very hard when you're in depression like me when I feel down I base my whole life on just that day, thinking how will I cope, but then I say to myself, its just for a few days I will get better, you need to fight it, but like I said its hard as I still find it difficult at times but I know my family's here for me. I have stopped anti depressants over a year ago and my mind is a lot free and clear. Meds do mess you up, but like I said, they also do help some.
I wish my GP never put me on them because they do mess your mind up. I believe the GP should explain in more details about side effects and also speak to a member of the family to let them know that side effects of suicidal thoughts do occur and there is a worsening of depression when starting any anti depressants. Your dad didn't know this but I now Google any med I take to check on side effects ¬– not always a good idea as most only write about the bad side effects, not how well they work.
Your dad leaving us really hit me hard as he was the only person that visited me as he liked to see me doing up my house and give me ideas. He used to come at least twice a week. He was like an inspector coming to pass off my work. I still remember taking that call that afternoon. This moment and the above are the only ones I will never forget. I have always wanted to share this moment with you but just didn't know how.
I don't blame anyone especially not your dad as I know how it feels. I have made some enemies in my life but I wouldn't wish depression on anyone, it's horrible.
What we need to learn is that as Asians we need not be ashamed to talk openly and understand. My wife and mum always say don't think too much, but I say you can't just stop thinking, its just our genetic makeup, we're all different.
I know I can't add to your story, but I did know how your dad felt. We all need to be there for others in the future. I just wish he told someone that he was suffering depression."
Thank you so much for sharing this Kal. By sharing your experiences, as a community we can continue to smash the stigma and allow open and honest conversations about mental health. Your Dad would be so proud of what you are doing for our community and the wider community. It's great how your friend was able to be so open and honest with you too through his email.
Unfortunately, medication can have it's side effects but on the other hand it can be so beneficial for others too. We are all so different, medication may work for some but may not work for others. It's vital to get the balance right with therapy and medication. Although, medication will stabilise the different chemicals in the brain, it does not give you everyday skills on how to cope with the different life events we are faced with in this day and age.
As mentioned in the email, drinking culture is a massive part of Panjabi culture and is definitely a way many of us socialise/keep in touch with friends and family. An interesting point you made that I have never really thought about is how not drinking had a knock on effect on how much your dad was able socialise with friends. This is factor we should consider more and the pros and cons of drinking culture in our community.
Again, thank you so much for sharing and getting the conversation started. I look forward to seeing your other posts and reading your book 🙂