Sikhism is no different

In many Eastern countries mental health is a taboo and in the Punjab where Sikhism is prevalent, it is no different. As a member of the Sikh community and a psychology graduate, I have found mental health issues are brushed under the carpet and are not openly spoken about within the Sikh community, as well as other religions. However the younger members are becoming more open about mental illness. This begs the question is it a cultural or religious taboo.

Sikhism is a faith of One God, Ten Sikh Guru’s and the Holy Guru Granth Sahib Ji (GGSJ). Sikhs believe in Karma, and hence believe any tragedies or ill health is seen to be a result of bad karma in either this lifetime or a previous one. Seva (services to others) is also a key component of Sikhism as well as living a moral and ethical life is a key belief in Sikhism.

Culturally Sikhism is just like Hinduism and Islam, mental health is a taboo and there is a very evident discrimination against mental health.  Families will conceal any one in their family with a mental illness or neurological defect (if possible). This idea of ‘family honour’ is a major issue amongst South Asians. The opinions of others is cast with very high importance, and it seems having a mental illness brings embarrassment to the family name, taints it and can leave the individual unlikely to marry due to its social impact.

Mental illness is not seen as an issue the GP can fix, it’s more of supernatural/spiritual issue. ‘Nazar’ (evil eye) is another major issue found amongst the south Asian community. The notion is someone has cast the ‘evil eye’ on you and your family. This belief of people casting an ‘evil eye’ as being the cause of an individual’s ill fate in life, is a phenomena which health care professional should take into consideration. Taking on board the cultural belief of the patient, and incorporating it in treatment plans, can help patients understand their diagnosis and be more acceptance to treatment.

Sikh’s believe in equality amongst human beings;

‘’ No one is Hindu or Muslim, all are children of God, so are equal’

(Guru Nanak Dev. Ji [8])

Here Guru Nanak Dev. Ji lays out the fundamental foundation of ‘’human rights for all of humanity’’ [8]. However, we do see hidden discrimination toward the ‘different’ and hence the individuals are cast out of the Sikh community.

However, Guru Nanak Dev. Ji, taught us to give up: pride and Haumai (ego) and to become humble. Guru Nanak Dev. Ji outlined Haumai is the greatest disease of humanity and that most of the global conflicts and the mental health epidemic is due to Haumai and pride. Guru Nanak Dev. Ji stated if we control our pride and Haumai, we can directly improve the mental health of the both the individual and the community [8].

It is this pride (self and family) being driven by egos, which is causing this taboo in mental health. If we let go of our ego’s and dismiss our own/family pride, we would be more acceptance of issues such as mental health. This removal of pride and ego, will not only benefit the individual but also the community for the long term. Also a global cultural change in attitudes towards mental health can occur, without the presence of negativity, judgement and discrimination.

From personal experience, working in the mental health sector, I have come to realise, there is an unspoken community of Sikhs suffering from mental illnesses such as; Depression, Anxiety, and Panic Attacks etc. Many of the individuals fail to recognise they have a mental health problem, and others put it down to a bi-product of their other medical illness; or medication. This was worrying for me, as a large population in the UK of Sikh individuals are dealing with an un-diagnosed/treated mental health issue.

This got me thinking:

‘’ How best can we support the mentally ill in a Sikh community who deny any problem’’?

•        Using a culturally based model of counselling

•        Respecting the daily routine of the individual

•        Respecting the 5 K’s

•        Support the family

Using a culturally based model of counselling

An abstract from the article written by Dr. Kala Singh (Singh, 2007):

‘’With the continuing migration of a large number of South Asians, especially the Sikhs, to Western countries, mental health professionals should be aware of their clients’ world-view and cultural/religious specific models of counselling. Use of Sikh spirituality can reduce stress; help in treating psychosomatic disorders; and improve mental health of the individual and of the community. [6]

Figure 1 Sikh Spiritual Model of Counselling [3]

Mental Health professionals should aim to use cultural specific models of counselling, to better support the individual. Understanding the Sikh religion/culture, will assist in implementing treatment plans more effectively. Also the individual is more likely to accept the diagnosis, treatment and speak about it more openly, as it’s within their religious understanding.

Dr Singh outlined mental health professionals should be self-aware of their own beliefs and values, to understand the perspective of all human beings based on different cultures. Then form this information plan and implement an appropriate intervention tailored for the individual [6].

This model is not just aimed at Sikhs, it is universal and can be used by other religions such as Hinduism and Christianity.The model is adaptable to people, situations and beliefs, which means the model can be used in conjunction with western beliefs as well as eastern beliefs, supporting those with conflicted views [1].

Respecting the daily routine of the individual

Individuals whom suffer from mental health issues, their family feel excluded from daily prayers and family occasions. However using the Sikh Spiritual Model of Counselling, prayer and medication adherence is encouraged, to help provide both spiritual, physical and medical support [1].

Respecting the 5 K’s

Baptised Sikhs and/or un-baptised Sikhs, whom are suffering from a mental illness, should maintain belief in the 5 K’s. This involves Kesh (refrain from cutting your hair), wearing the Kirpan (holy dagger), Kara (silver bangle), Keshara (shorts) and kanga (comb). The UK Sikh Healthcare chaplaincy group have special circumstances regarding the Kirpan, considering the situation. Ensuring all the 5 k’s beliefs are maintained can ensure the sanctity of a Sikh is not broken during this time [1].

Support for the family

Sikhs live and have very close families. Even though one individual is suffering from the mental illness, the reality is this is seen to have detrimental effects on the parents, partners, and siblings. It is imperative that immediate family are fully supported as well, so they are able to provide a strong network to help recovery of the individual and providing them with all the knowledge surrounding the condition [1].

More and more individuals from the South Asian communities are speaking up and raising awareness of mental health. Individuals across the globe have stood up against the discrimination and hush-hush nature of mental health and voiced their experiences. Many people are using their social platforms to dis-courage this stigma and encourage people talk about it and deal with the issue together, educating the next generation of Sikhs

So, living as a British Sikh, born I have a conflict between my western upbringing and the Sikh culture. For me I do not let my religious or cultural views impact my thought about mental health. But this doesn’t mean I escape the prejudice and discrimination in my family life.

Be it cultural or religious the future of South Asian Mental Health doesn’t look bleak. Through focussing on the individual’s religion and using this as the driving mechanism for treatment, mental health will be recognised and treated more effectively in these communities.

’if the human race is free from caste, creed, colour, religion and gender, there is equality amongst all human beings. If ego, pride and Haumai is removed, may mental health problems may be prevented’

(Dr Kala Singh {Guru Nanak Dev. Ji teachings] [7])

References

[1]Chaplaincy), S. S. (2016). Guidance note on dealing with mental health issues and Sikh patients Dealing with mental health issues: Perspectives in Sikhism. Retrieved from UK Sikh Healthcare Chaplaincy Group: http://www.sikhchaplaincy.org.uk/~sikhchap/images/publications/guidance_note_on_dealing_with_mental_health_issues_and_sikh_patients.pdf

[2]Guide, S. (2007-2015). Sikhism Guide. Retrieved from Basic beliefs of Sikhism: Introduction to Sikhism

[3]Jodha. (2009). Sikh Spiritual Model of Counselling. Retrieved from Sikhnet: http://www.sikhnet.com/news/sikh-spiritual-model-counseling

[4]SikhNet. (2009). Introduction to Sikhism. Retrieved from SikkNet Sharing the Sikh Experience: http://www.sikhchaplaincy.org.uk/~sikhchap/images/publications/guidance_note_on_dealing_with_mental_health_issues_and_sikh_patients.pdf

[5]Singh, D. (2005). Sikh Religion and its values in Mental Health.

[6]Singh, D. (2007). The Sikh Spiritual model of counselling. Spirituality and Health International, 9(1), 32-43.

[7]Singh, D. (2015). Mental Health Teachings of Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Asian Journal.

[8]Singh, D. (2015). Teachings of Guru Nanak Dev. Ji and Mental Health. Asian Journal.

[9]Singh, D. (2016). Mental Health and Waisakhi. Asian Journal.

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