Dr Mohinder Kapoor, consultant in old age psychiatry, associate medical director for research and development and medical investigator for the patient safety team at South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust talks about suicide prevention in British South Asian communities.
“Suicide is a critical public health concern and one of the leading causes of death in the UK and across the world. More than 700,000 people lose their lives by suicide each year globally with 5,583 suicides recorded in 2021 in England and Wales. Yet, suicide is preventable. Knowing the risk factors and recognising the warning signs can help prevent suicide.
“A key question is: how do you prevent suicide in a community that won’t even talk about it? In the British South Asian community, it is quite common to shut down any conversation about suicide. And, when no one is talking about something, it raises the strong possibility that it is considered shameful. Stigma around suicide and mental illness in the British South Asian community is well-known. Stigmatisation prevents or withholds people from sharing how they are feeling and seeking help.
“When no one wants to talk about a suicide, it doesn’t just affect the family who have lost a family member, it means the wider issues that may have contributed to that death are never addressed. When talking about suicide, it’s important to look at factors beyond mental illness, because the majority of suicide is actually caused by mental distress. It’s a common misconception that suicide is caused by depression, for instance – you can take your own life and not have a diagnosable mental illness. This is why identifying cultural pressures, and creating an environment within our community where we can talk about stress and not be brushed off, is so important.
“Good mental health promotion and looking after mental health can be a good suicide prevention” We all know that majority of British South Asian community follow sports and Bollywood. Therefore, it might make a significant difference if the role models (such as Bollywood and sporting stars) speak up about their experiences with mental distress and promote ways to improve mental health.
“Specific to the British South Asian community, the immigrant way of thinking is to dust yourself off and get on with it, and this is hugely problematic for someone struggling after the suicide of a loved one. Unfortunately, the stigma and the taboo (around suicide) mean a lot of Asian families grieve privately, they are expected to be stronger and move on quickly. They rarely show their emotions for fear of being judged and shunned in the community.
“We are also aware that the psychosocial, economic, and cultural issues can intersect with the sad combination of socio-economic problems, along with the mental health issues, social issues like violence, poverty, and unemployment, can create a tricky situation for a person from the British South Asian community. It may sometimes end up at a point of crisis, or breakdown, resulting in suicide.
“We need to raise awareness of mental illness and suicide to help overcome taboos within the community and this is something that is desperately needed. Being open and talking about our own experiences gives courage to others. It can support people who may be in a similar situation and help them get the right support before things get worse. By talking, we can create a space for people going through something similar, helping them to reach out before it’s too late. That is the spirit of community, and a key path to prevention.
“With avid interest in research and from research background I strongly believe once we are able to deal with stigma of mental illness and suicide, we will be in a better position to involve people from British South Asian communities in important research projects. This in turn will help us provide high-quality services to better meet the needs of local communities whilst addressing health inequalities.
“It is vital to have a comprehensive strategy which looks at race as well as gender in order to reduce loss of life by suicide. According to Glenn Close – “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation”.
There is lot of support available to help people who may be experiencing poor mental health or having suicidal thoughts. A good place to start is the West Yorkshire Suicide Prevention website which has advice and information about local services which can help.
For help in a mental health crisis or emergency, call the 24-hour mental health helpline on 0800 183 0558, open 7 days a week and available to anyone registered with a GP in Barnsley, Calderdale, Kirklees or Wakefield.
For information about services to support your mental health and wellbeing, take a look at the choose well for mental health guide.