MENTAL ILLNESS IS REAL...
...So is depression. And suicide. Especially in the Indian American community, there is a tendency to pretend that these things are not real problems, or that mental illness is a sign of weakness. Or moral failure. Or bad parenting. Or lack of taking personal responsibility. Some even believe that mental illness is ultimately not real because, for lack of a better phrase, it is “all in one’s head.” But by denying mental illness as a problem, we deny ourselves the power of solutions.
Growing up, I was fortunate to have a loving, supportive family, and enough friends - or at least acquaintances - to keep good company through my school years. As I have gotten older and am now raising children of my own, I am more aware of the social pressures which slowly chip away at the self-confidence and mental health of our children and young adults. For example, fitting in with the “right” balance of American and Indian culture — how you dress, how you talk (and which accent you use around which people!), etc. Yes, these “fitting in” issues are a challenge for every generation - but I didn’t have to worry about my awkwardness being displayed on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or texted out to all my classmates. The potential for bullying, leaving no evidence but the mental and emotional scars it leaves behind, is too large and too dangerous to ignore.
Add to that the pressures, spoken and unspoken, to excel in school and in every manner of extracurriculars. Not to mention comparing children, either directly or indirectly, with their peers. As parents, my wife and I try to stress to our children that they should enjoy what they are doing and that we love them no matter what (i.e., regardless of their grades, or if they make a choice we would not have made, etc.). That we want them to be happy, and that their happiness is our happiness. It breaks my heart when I hear about students in our community who have taken their own life — because of failing grades, involvement with drugs or alcohol, or dating habits they had kept hidden from their parents. I can only imagine how isolated, how alone one must feel to think that death is the only escape and the only companion. How maybe hearing one more “I love you” or “What’s on your mind?,” or anything to make them feel like they belonged could have made a difference. So I make sure those words do not remain unspoken.