South Asian women are using photography to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness

South Asian women are challenging the stigma surrounding mental illness with the use of photography in a bid to advocate good mental health amid a push for more culturally driven services available for Australians.

A group of south Asian women are challenging the stigma surrounding mental illness in their community through photography.

Seventeen women displayed their images at the photovoice exhibition in western Sydney which hopes to give women, who feel like they can’t talk about mental illness, the tools to tell their stories.

Among the women was Viji Dhayanathan, who cared for her mother and sister before they passed away.

Ms Dhayanathan said both family members had bipolar and her sister also had an intellectual disability.

“I’m a Tamil and mental health was a really taboo subject, people didn’t want to talk about it, people didn’t want to accept mental illness, it was hidden,” she explained.

“With my sister, she was born with an intellectual disability people had no problem accepting her for what she was people welcomed her and loved her.

Viji Dhayanathan is one of seventeen women to display her photos at the photovoice exhibit in a bid to curb the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Source: SBS News

“But in her late 20s when she was diagnosed with mental illness all of our friends, family members said it was a disgrace and because of that association with mental illness they too felt ashamed.”

Ms Dhayanathan said the photo she took represents the isolation she felt while caring for her family members.

“Our south Asian community still needs a lot of work done even though they have brought their bodies to Australia many of them have the same mindset they had back at home,” she said.

“But many women like me are now advocating and speaking out and this project allowed us to spread the message of not to be ashamed of mental illness, it is an illness and it can be treated.”

Monica Das has depression and anxiety and said her images helped her express the shame she felt when she was first diagnosed.
Source: SBS News

Monica Das, 31, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety 10 years ago.

She said at the time she felt as though she was ‘drowning’ but didn’t want to burden her loved ones.

“It was always about being a good Indian daughter, being successful, being quite strong and having a good persona to put up to the community,” she said.

“I think it was a bit of a shock for my family I think they sort of brushed it off and said it was just a tough time I was going through, you’ll get over it.

The photovoice exhibit was on display in western Sydney.
Source: SBS News

“But I think over time it’s been a process of learning for their generation and they’ve come to understand that I do need to look after myself and get myself help at different times.”

In Australia, 20 per cent of the population experience mental illness annually and 54 per cent of those people don’t have access to appropriate treatment.

Each year more than three thousand people take their own lives and experts say that number is growing.

“People need to reach out and if they feel like they’re not going to be listened to, heard and respected or they’re holding themselves back because of stigma we’re not doing them the best service,” said NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey.

NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey said stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be reduced in all communities.
Source: SBS News

“But it’s not just South Asian communities that are affected by stigma.

“Stigma is across the board I think we’ve seen some improvements in some areas such as depression and anxiety but people with psychosis appear to still have stigma surrounding them.”

NSW Multicultural Health Communications Service's Jesusa Helaratne said it’s important to get culturally driven (CALD) services especially for new migrants to Australia.

“It's language, it’s who do you talk to about certain cultural beliefs or myths or understanding about for example arranged marriages or dowries,” she said.

The photovoice exhibit also saw a push for more culturally driven services for Australians.
Source: SBS News

“So I think there needs to be an awareness project to allow people to see things in a different way, showcase these stories in a different way like the women have done at photovoice.”

Ms Helaratne said there are services available across NSW and Australia that give people from CALD communities the opportunity to talk about mental illness in their native tongue.

“There’s transcultural mental health in New South Wales where people can ring in a number of languages and the people counselling are trained in dealing with issues like this,” she said.

“I think the best way forward is to keep promoting services that are in language and culturally appropriate.”

More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Published 22 September 2019 at 11:00am
By Aneeta Bhole