Please do not tell us to ‘pray away’ our mental health issues

You don’t need to see a psychologist. Just pray.” A well meaning and otherwise caring individual said these words to me. At a time when I was very clearly struggling with my mental health, this was a painful reminder of how so many people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and faith communities are widely misguided and uninformed when it comes to mental health and well being. This deep lack of awareness severely hinders treatment and early diagnosis, which results in victims suffering in silence.

As has undoubtedly become the case for so many contemporary issues we face, people are told to simply “pray it away”. Whilst I do not seek to even remotely dismiss the role faith plays in helping people from all walks of life, myself included, to cope with whatever life throws their way, spiritualising one’s mental health issues can have grave and dangerous consequences.

There was a time when I was relatively ignorant about mental health issues. I knew very little. I had never set foot in a psychologist’s office, nor did I think I would ever have to. Little did I know that my life would soon be changed and I would become intimately familiar with the comfortable lounges, jugs of water and tissue boxes that seem to grace psychologists’ offices.

In early 2015, I became the victim of a vicious cyber bullying campaign that reached epic, international proportions, remnants of which are still present today. At the peak of my struggles in early 2015 I was experiencing nausea, dizziness and episodes of vertigo. A colleague once had to escort me to my chair at work because she’d seen me walk into a filing cabinet only moments before. I couldn’t walk down steps without risk of hurting myself. I didn’t want to see anyone or speak to anyone. I wanted to be alone all the time and when I was alone, I wanted to escape my thoughts. No state of solitude was ever satisfying. I felt a hollow emptiness and sheer, unrelenting pain. It lasted initially for six weeks. Six, painful weeks when I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.

In that time I went to five different doctors, including an otolaryngologist (head and neck specialist) and a neurologist. I had my ears tested, my heart tested and my brain function tested and in the end – it seemed the cause of my physical illnesses was anxiety. I vividly remember the palpable relief I felt and an almost instant easing of my physical conditions when I finally managed to speak to a psychologist. At the time it seemed odd to me, that my physical conditions were manifestations of anxiety and depression.

Since that period, anxiety and at times, depression has become like a distant relative who insists on visiting at the most inconvenient times and always over stays their welcome.

While I’ve received incredible unconditional support from my loved ones each and every time, there’s no denying that there is still a huge culture of silence that surrounds this issue.

The unfortunate stigma associated with mental health issues is particularly prevalent amongst CALD and faith communities who may view it through a lens of stigma and shame. Some even consider those who struggle with their mental health as an indictment and so routinely dismiss it as a “lack of faith”.

It is perhaps therefore unsurprising that the data very clearly demonstrates that people from CALD backgrounds do not seek out voluntary mental health services compared with those from non-CALD backgrounds. They are, however, disproportionately over-represented among those who are treated for mental health issues on an involuntarily basis. It seems they are less likely to seek treatment unless until they are in a desperate state, and so they are metaphorically dragged to the table kicking and screaming; even then, they will go to great lengths to keep it all private to supposedly “protect their family’s honour”.

As I’ve said to so many over the years, we turn to a medical professional to help us when we have a physical condition. We don’t simply just pray for a cure, so by the same logic, why are we so hesitant to seek help from a professional when we are presented with a mental condition? While spiritual healing can certainly support recovery, it cannot and must not be seen as an alternative to seeking professional help.

ortunately, there are a growing number of advocates who are speaking out and working tirelessly behind the scenes to disseminate knowledge about and further develop culturally appropriate services to cater for CALD and faith communities.

And in the poignant words of the talented poet and Mental Health advocate, Hawraa Kash “I am a trigger warning walking, with an uncertain heart beat, chanting that it’s ok not to be ok.” It certainly is, ok not to be ok but don’t do it alone. Don’t suffer in silence. Have faith that professional and culturally appropriate support is available to you to help you overcome the most challenging of mental health conditions.
Mental health support services:
Black Dog Institute
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Carers Australia 1800 242 636 – Short-term counselling and emotional and psychological support services for carers and their families in each state and territory.
Headspace 1800 650 890 – a free online and telephone service that supports young people aged between 12 and 25 and their families going through a tough time.
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 – A free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25.
Mindspot Clinic 1800 61 44 34 – An online and telephone clinic providing free assessment and treatment services for Australian adults with anxiety or depression.
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)
QLife 1800 184 527 – QLife is Australia’s first nationally-oriented counselling and referral service for LGBTI people.
Relationships Australia 1300 364 277- A provider of relationship support services for individuals, families and communities.
SANE Australia 1800 18 7263 – Information about mental illness, treatments, where to go for support and help carers.
Support after Suicide
Source: Beyond Blue

Equality For Women Does Not Mean Oppression For Men

You can’t be oppressed when another group is merely gaining rights you exclusively acquired by default decades ago.

I recall a conversation I was having with two senior managers about Corporate Australia’s shift to focus on cultural diversity within its leadership ranks. One of them was a woman of Asian Australian heritage; the other, a colleague of hers, a man of Anglo-Celtic origin.

It was in the context of this discussion, in which the man turns to her and says: “There you go, another leg up for people like you”.

The shocked and hurt look on her face will be permanently etched into my memory. She didn’t say a word but I couldn’t let that go. I responded: “When you extend a hand to someone who for too long has been walking in the gutter, while you’re comfortably strolling the streets, that’s not a leg up or a hand out – it’s simply levelling the playing field”.

And then I did a Wonder Woman pose and walked off. Okay, so the last part didn’t happen.

Image: Getty.

That man’s remarks, it turns out, whilst fairly brazen, are not uncommon.

According to a new landmark study from the 50/50 Foundation at the University of Canberra, while 88 percent of Australians agree that gender equality is still a problem, 46 percent of the men surveyed believe that the adopted measures do not take men into account or, put another way, they feel like their man-given rights are being eroded.

It’s no surprise of course, because “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” (Quote by unknown).

But you can’t be oppressed when another group is merely gaining rights, you exclusively acquired, by default, decades ago. Perhaps the trepidation some men are feeling is because they fear that they will be treated how women have been treated for centuries?

Needless to say, the report findings fuelled the usual debate across social media.

As one Twitter user put it to me (let’s call him ‘David’ for now) “… how can you expect millennial males to suffer discrimination for the wrongs of history, which they did not commit?”

What you’re really saying is that you want the system to continue to operate in an unjust manner which advantages men over women because it’s not your individual fault that David, Peter and John built a system which advantages other Davids, Peters and Johns. I didn’t select those names randomly – there are fewer women in top jobs than there are actual Davids, Peters and Johns.

L to R: David, Peter John, David, Peter… Image: Getty.

What you’re really saying is that you’ve found a large bag of money which doesn’t belong to you, but you’re just going to hang on to it, instead of returning it the authorities.

Balancing the gender equality scales is not a historical issue nor is it about punishing one gender over another. It’s not about attributing fault. It’s not about revenge. It’s about justice – pure and simple.

The injustices and barriers to full equality are still flourishing today and the barriers are amplified for women from minority groups who have to face not only a glass ceiling, but a double glazed one at that. And no, they are not lacking in merit. That argument was blown out of the water long ago.

Countless studies have shown how unconscious institutional bias operates to advantage men, and particularly those of an Anglo-Celtic background. How else do you explain that once “blind” (or a better term, ‘anonymous’) recruitment practices were adopted, the chances of women advancing to key positions were exponentially increased?

Whether it’s musicians in orchestras or executives in boardrooms, remove the bias creating attributes of human beings, like their gender, race, sexuality, etc. and the pendulum seems to swing towards equality.

And is it not ironic that those who claim that their selections are based on merit tend to hire people just like them? Affinity bias is an actual thing, you know.

You can’t argue that you have more merit when all you have are more privileges. If you, whether advertently or inadvertently threw a cover over one side of a newly planted garden bed, which resulted in sunlight and rain water not reaching them, curtailing their growth, you can’t claim that the other side of the garden bed, which produced healthier and taller flowers, are just of a better, more meritorious variety.

Here’s the thing, you can’t address inequality equally. In order to tip the scales of equality back to balance, the side weighing it down must return to a state of equilibrium.

Throughout history, humanity has sought to right historical wrongs. Sometimes you have to give your seat up on the bus and sit further back because it’s the right thing to do.

And at that point, the question is not, ‘why I am not getting the unearned privileges I was previously afforded by virtue of my gender’?

The question is, why does my fellow human being not have access to the same equitable opportunities and privileges that I’ve had access to and continue to benefit from?

Mariam Veiszadeh is a Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and did a TEDx talk on Rethinking Privilege.  


Article originally published at Ten Daily 




I arrived in Australia as a seven year old and I’m still grateful

Twenty seven years ago, on this day, my family and I first arrived in Australia on board a Qantas plane. 

Given all that we had endured, grateful is understatement when it comes to describing how we felt.We finally had a home we could adopt as our own. A home that would allow us to escape the horrors of the past. 

I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan you see, during the Soviet War in 1984.

I, like every other human being living on this earth, didn’t exercise any choice in where, or the circumstances in which I would be born. 

The intensity of the Soviet war drove my family and I to flee Afghanistan in 1988. 

Our journey took us from Kabul to India, to the Czech Republic, followed by Germany and then finally Australia, where we were granted asylum in 1991 under the Refugee and Special Humanitarian program. 

I remember being enrolled in school both in India and Germany, each time making new friends and learning a completely new language. I remember how much I cried because we had to leave all of my toys behind in India.  

And then I remember being gutted not being able to stay in Germany, having to say goodbye to my friends and our snow-fighting adventures.  

Coming to a new foreign land is never easy but I remember the warmth of my ESL teacher Mrs Browne at Penrith South Public school. She made us, all of us, feel welcome. She helped teach me to speak English but unbeknown to her, she did more than that – she effectively taught me to believe in myself.  

She helped to inject a confidence in me that our years of travelling from one country to another had sucked out of me. 

Now when I reflect on my humble beginnings, it is still unbelievable to think that I arrived in Australia as a shy seven year old who couldn’t speak a word of English. 

I am grateful for all of the opportunities and privileges afforded to me and I know that being able to call Australia our home has been instrumental in enabling me to become the woman that I am today. And for that privilege, I am grateful. 

I cannot begin to imagine what life would be like if I was back home in Afghanistan. 

Now, I hear the naysayers and my ‘troll base’ scream out, “but you’re not grateful!…you’re always pointing out racism and bigotry etc etc, why can’t you just shut up and be grateful”. I am not exaggerating here for dramatic effect – I have words to this effect written to me almost on a weekly basis.  

It’s worth noting that there are also those lone voices, on the other side of the spectrum, that will label me a sell-out for merely putting the words grateful and Australia in the one sentence. 

My work in the Diversity and Inclusion space in recent times has forced me to more profoundly reflect on my own levels of privilege and that of those around me. I’ve felt compelled to unapologetically, hold up a mirror and to call out the grossly unfair double standards applied to different members of society.  

Just as we can clap hands and skip at the same time, we can be grateful while speaking about our history and pointing out injustices. They are not mutually exclusive. And for a person of colour, voicing one’s opinion, no matter how unsavoury you may find it, shouldn’t come with a greater price tag than everybody else.

So today I’m sitting back and reflecting on that day 27 years ago with gratitude.

What I cherish most about Australia is that we are continually trying to better ourselves as a nation. We are proud of who we are yet we have the confident humility to know we can always strive to be better.

Mariam Veiszadeh is a lawyer, writer and advocate.

Originally published at SBS Life