Depression: Shamed into silence

Why do people of South Asian origin consider depression as something disgraceful?

Aneka Chohan August 07, 2011
In the dictionary, the term depression is defined as a ‘severe despondency and dejection, accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy’ or as a ‘condition of mental disturbance, typically with lack of energy and difficulty in maintaining concentration or interest in life’. However, nowhere in the above definitions, have we come across the words ‘weakness’ or ‘illness’.

So, why do our people of South Asian origin consider depression as something disgraceful?

Studies have shown that women are more likely to suffer from depression than men are and, from the list of ethnic identities, South Asian women – whether they are Pakistani, Indian, Nepalese, Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan – suffer more from the disorder than their counterparts do.

From this point onwards, I think it is important to draw attention to the fact that depression is not a sign of laziness or incompetence. Unlike in the West, research about South Asian women and their mental disorders is scarce. Perhaps, because our patriarchal and extremely ignorant culture is responsible for this. South Asian women are somewhat reluctant to talk about their depression and the factors that have caused it. Some, maybe many more, are probably unaware that it is the case of depression that is plaguing their health and mind.

Anjali Dixit, from the Palto Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), says that there are biological, social and cultural factors that contribute to a woman’s depression. She says that hormones and other issues relating to miscarriages, pregnancy or menopause affect women more. If a woman is under pressure from trying to maintain the home and family or earning money to run the household, depression is more likely to occur. In a patriarchal society, such as ours, women are pushed right to the breaking point. Typical things such as being the perfect mother, sister, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law and/or career woman, bearing children (especially boys), being subservient and submit to their husbands are just crushing the minds of us females.

What’s worse is that our people not only push women right to the limit but also teach them to bottle up these problems. Blackmailed emotionally with disgrace or loss of family honour, women are more reluctant to confide in someone such as a friend or a health professional.

Research has also established that suicide rates are higher amongst South Asian women than any other ethnic identity and this stems from the depression problem.

A young woman whom I talked to, and requested to remain anonymous, actually revealed to me that she attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills after unable to cope with the building stress that becomes fatal for us women in the end. The attempt turned out to be unsuccessful as the pills did not show their lethal consequences and the 30-year-old was left sleepless for the entire night. This attempt, she says, remains a secret from her family to this day with the belief that she will suffer even more should they find out.

The tragic truth is that, despite living in the 21st century, our people and their minds are still stuck in the Middle Ages – an era where ignorance, lack of knowledge and logic were common. Just ask yourself – how on earth is confiding in someone about your inner problems and mental health disgracing your family? Even though Pakistan has narrow-minded people, there are liberal-minded people too. Nevertheless, those people on their part failed to contribute to removing the stigma that is associated with depression.

It is true.

Have you ever seen a campaign that is trying to create awareness for depressive disorder?

Very few people would say so because we never have anything as such. Many generations of young women have been through this painful and tough ordeal in the past and it won’t stop here. Lots more women of forthcoming generations will be pushed to go through this trial if we do not put a stop to it now. It is still not too late – better late than never, they say.

Let’s look at it this way: depression and cancer are both illnesses and prove to be fatal for humans if nothing is done to cure it. Nevertheless, patients who are terminally ill with cancer receive so much more love and support from others that depressed people do not.

It is very much similar to what legendary writer David D. Burns once said:
“Depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem.”

We all salute the bravery of cancer patients who are putting on a courageous face during such a difficult time. So, why do we point fingers of suspicion at our poor, young women when their minds are driven right to the breaking point rather than acknowledge the pain and suffering they are being put through?

People need to close off all these intolerant ideologies and look at the issue of depression through a new perspective. Our perspective. The female perspective. Perhaps, then, things may become better. A new sun may rise on a new day for a new future for us women.
Aneka Chohan The author is a freelance journalist and human rights activist. She tweets as @anekachohan (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Irfan Anwer | 12 years ago | Reply These Kind are issue are related to Pakistani Society, I think we need change the mind set up of Pakistani People...I am sure will be a change in the society..But we need more time for the kind change....Oh O..will be .....soon are later.....
Anees | 12 years ago | Reply GOOD WORK. you have very well pointed about the issues regarding "WOMEN AS UNDER PRESSURE " perhaps specially in south Asian region, culture, man dominant society rolls at its peak. Need to look at the matter with rigorous policies and change mind set, to overcome issue.
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