Celebrating South Asian Heritage Month

Sharon Singh

South Asian Heritage Month is only in its third year so it’s still quite a new concept. When I first heard about the month I was pleased that something had been created where I could shine a spotlight on my British Indian culture.

I plan to take part in lots of the official events as well as celebrate all the good things about being South Asian with family and friends, such as the music, dancing and all the different types of cuisine.

My community instilled in me from a young age to help those less fortunate. Through my Gurudwara church we would all work together to buy, cook and distribute food so that no one in our community ever went hungry. It’s this kind and caring element of our culture I grew up with that I want to celebrate as well. It’s the reason why I do the job that I do. It’s also why I see this month as an opportunity to reflect on how our services can better support my community.

In my culture, issues like drugs, alcohol and mental health are taboo. In my experience, it can be a very stiff upper lip culture where you have to keep up appearances. It feels as though you can’t talk about it at home and you can’t reach out for help in case people in your community find out and accuse you of bringing shame on your family. It can be incredibly isolating.

It’s no surprise therefore that South Asian people are massively under-represented in our services. Yet growing evidence suggests that South Asian people have higher levels of psychological distress compared to the White majority in the UK.

I’d like to use this month to shine a spotlight on this under-served group. One of the ways I plan to do this is by encouraging open and honest conversations with my colleagues where they can feel comfortable asking questions without judgement about South Asian culture. I’ll also share with them my knowledge of the cultural barriers that South Asians might face in accessing our services and suggest ways we can adapt the way we work to better engage.

Longer term, I think there is work we can do out in the South Asian community to change the perceptions around drugs and alcohol. I’d like to see outreach programmes where we partner with existing organisations who are established in the community, and work with parents to help them understand that having issues with drugs or alcohol shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of.

For me, as well as this month being a time for celebration, it’s also an opportunity to raise awareness of my culture so that drug, alcohol and mental health services can be more accessible for future generations of South Asians.

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