South Asians in Therapy: Challenging Norms and Taboos

As therapy becomes more mainstream and accessible, a new generation is reclaiming their mental health.

Aarti Virani

September 22, 2021

South Asians in Therapy: Challenging Norms and Taboos
Aziza Ahmad for The Juggernaut

When writer and filmmaker Pulkit lost his father to COVID-19 after he also contracted the virus, he struggled with the aftermath. “People often associate grief and trauma with just emotional impact. But the body suffers it equally, too,” the 35-year-old, who chose to disclose just his first name, shared in a candid Instagram confession this past spring. Pulkit’s anguish was only compounded by certain friends and family members, who encouraged him to keep it together. “I had people tell me not to cry and stay strong,” he told The Juggernaut. “Why is there this societal expectation among South Asians, and South Asian men in particular?” he wondered. “It really infuriated me,” he added, revealing that ultimately, he opted for professional mental help to help navigate the devastation. 

Pulkit, who lives in New York but is currently based in New Delhi, represents a slice of the South Asian diaspora that is increasingly comfortable seeking mental health services. About a decade ago, South Asians in the U.S. had a greater stigma toward mental illness than any other minority group, according to the non-profit South Asian Public Health Association, while an international study from 2019 reflected that South Asian immigrants experience high rates of mental health disorders that go unaddressed. It’s an idea comedian Hasan Minhaj presented on a 2019 episode of the Patriot Act. “Mental health isn’t a thing for us,” he deadpanned. “One time I told my dad I was feeling sad and he was like, drink water and pray.” Undoubtedly, there are disturbing links between model minority pressure and psychological well-being — there is an expectation to be excellent at all times. 

While cultural pride may have thwarted first-generation immigrants from accessing mental health care in the past, a younger wave of South Asian Americans, emboldened by supportive digital communities and a nationwide shift towards embracing authenticity, is slowly altering those trends. And much like the kaleidoscopic South Asian American community itself, the mental health care pathways they choose are anything but uniform.