With the pandemic bringing a shared traumatic experience for the world in 2020, mental health has been at the forefront of many conversations.
‘iGlobal’ explored the issue with some experts and charities, such as and the South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network (), specifically from the perspective of within the Global Indian community during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Research from the University of Exeter Business School and the University of Glasgow measured and compared the mental health impact of lockdown on different ethnic groups. Using data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) of 14,289 people interviewed both in 2017-2019 and in April 2020, the findings revealed that men from ethnic minority communities reported a 14 per cent deterioration in their mental health. Furthermore, the study revealed men of Indian and South Asian heritage had the steepest decline in their mental health wellbeing during lockdown – with the difference in their two mental health scored showing a 23 per cent increase in mental distress.
In the US, a survey undertaken by the Cleveland Clinics Survey team of 1,000 adult men across the nation found that 77 per cent of respondents said their levels increased during the pandemic, whilst 59 per cent reported feeling isolated.
Within the Global Indian community, men for generations have been perceived through the prism of being “bread-winners” and “providers” for the family and are generally expected to be stoic. These expectations in the context of Covid-19 can magnify the already existing mental health concerns that were already there prior to the but have been heightened during the lockdown due to various factors like gyms being closed, social distancing, economic worries, and pressure of providing for the family.
Dr Vasudev N. Makhija, the founder-director of SAMHIN, explains: “For men, in particular, they have lost that outlet. For example, when they go to the temple, ashram, and gurdwaras they go for that spiritual fulfilment.
“But before this, there is also an important social element involved, where they meet with other men and talk about their work, family, and engage in intellectual discussions.”
Rana Jai from, the Leicester-based Adhar Project notes: “There are common patterns, where they’ll be a recurring anxiety cause, because they lacked routine which was a big part of their life before the pandemic.
“And now you have to adhere to social distancing, which removes that aspect of looking forward to going out and engaging and the structure they had previously.”
Having worked in the mental health sector for 10 years, he combines his experience as a counsellor and musician to help raise social awareness on mental health.
“From our perspective, as an organisation, what we try to do to help them is to look at how mindfulness is a big part in terms of coping with the triggers and looking at distraction techniques. We have redesigned our office spaces, where alongside telephone and video calls, we offer the option for one to visit, this also gives them something to plan and look forward to,” he adds.
As well as the stigma which makes it hard for men to speak about how they feel, the pandemic has taken away some of the tools and resources that kept their mental health at a balance.
Dr Vasudev notes that cultural identities, like being Punjabi or Brahmin, can add layers to how men choose to express or reveal how they feel.
“In our culture, men are generally taught to be more stoic and not emotional. The perception of mental illness is based on these myths, that it is the result of a lack of discipline or a moral weakness, not being spiritual enough; these all then become major barriers to seeking help.”
Speaking from an lockdown perspective, he adds: “They cannot just walk into a clinic or doctor’s office as it's closed. And because of that, there are restrictions on how many people can be seen to, with delays in treatment and the added stigma and barriers in our culture, getting that help becomes harder.”
One of the many ways in which SAMHIN is providing support to the Indian American community is through its .
“We guide and provide support through our various groups like South Asian Alcoholics groups and Suicide loss survivor support group. We also have a telephone and email service where one can reach us,” says Vasudev.
As well as the existing barriers, the pandemic has also shone a light on the disparities in health and access to services, which has an adverse effect on communities who are already struggling with the virus and its impact.
With a vaccine soon becoming available, and the outpouring of health information from the government and services, Jai emphasises: “Grassroot vaccine campaigns which meet people in their communities through mobile centres or at non-traditional sites would need to be utilised.
“It is important to engage local and trusted partners with both the development and implementation of these programmes, bearing in mind the ethnic minority communities.”