As a Desi (South Asian) teenager, you don’t go through the “what do you want to do with your life” phase. You go through the “when you are going to start working towards a goal already written out for you” phase. I knew that I had to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer (the golden three). My older brother was already studying in college, on the pre med track. But luckily for him, he actually liked what he was doing. Me on the hand couldn’t stand the idea of blood let alone everything else that came along with it. But what else was I supposed to do with my life?
Maybe it was after observing my friends in high school or studying neuroscience in AP Biology, but I realized that I was fascinated by the mind. I was so focused on studying the physical body that I forgot that there was a whole other dimension that impacts human beings. Mental health was a new term on my tongue but I was finally beginning to do something that made my heart settle at a calmer pace.
I was finally beginning to do something that made my heart settle at a calmer pace.
But mental health in a Desi community? It’s like mixing oil with water. The concept of going to therapy is similar to someone being sent to an asylum in one’s eyes. No one likes to show how vulnerable and human we truly are.
The hardest part about starting college wasn’t the paperwork, it was talking to my extended family about my major. When I told them I was going to major in psychology instead of a normal pre-med major…they were concerned to say the least. “How are you going to support yourself?” “You're choosing the most basic major?” “You're going to get paid 30K or less!” “You're going to get nowhere.” Self-doubt started to creep inside me and began to wonder if I was making a big mistake. My philosophy my entire life was to follow the path already paved. At some point, I felt isolated and conflicted.
At this point you must be thinking: “Man, Nadia’s life sucks. Her culture is so strict.” But I want to clear the air here. I am proud to be Desi and love the rich culture I was immersed in. South Asian culture may have its flaws and taboos but you will find that in every single culture. It’s important to understand how we got to this point.
Moving to a new country is stressful. Moving to a new country where everyone looks at you with vivid hate is entirely different. Even though my mother grew up here, she was scared of those with less melanin in their skin. My Dad had people call him by an American name at first because he couldn’t bear to correct them on the pronunciation again and again. You realize that you need to survive by doing what you think is best. To do well, you need to make a name for yourself, to build a foundation and to show that anyone can make it. You had to follow the source of power and prestige. One thing that helps me see this all in a better light is that everyone truly wants the best for you.
Everyone gets the story wrong. It isn’t culture vs dreams. It’s stigma vs everything else. If a career in the mental health field was revered just as much as the medical field, I wouldn’t be writing this article. Looking at psychology, especially being seen as a “soft science”, it’s a challenge to be taken seriously by others in the science field. This did not happen overnight. There has been repetitive backlash and close-minded thoughts around mental health in society as a whole. It’s only been in these past few years that we are slowly starting to unravel the stereotypes and promote wellness openly. There is so much that needs to be done and luckily organizations such as Psych Mic, are stepping up to the challenge.
To those struggling right now on choosing what they want to do, I am begging you to not give up. The stigma of mental health and trying a different career path are difficult hurdles. It requires persistence, communication, and true passion. I know whoever is reading this can make their own way in the world and still make their parents proud. Going down the route of becoming the “wrong doctor” is terrifying to say the least. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.