The Struggles of a Depressed Immigrant
October 19th, 2017
Being an anxious and depressed first-generation migrant is definitely not a walk in the park. Migrating to America has undeniably given me a different perspective than those who were born in this country, but living here since I was young has also given me a different perspective than my parents. The differences in these outlooks have caused cultural, educational and language barriers that have, in some ways, limited my ability to make progress throughout my journey dealing with my mental health issues.
My family is originally from Bangladesh, a small country to the east of India, but we moved to the United States when I was 3 years old, back in 2005. Even when I was a little girl, I realized that some things were different here in the U.S. than in Bangladesh. I couldn't understand why we couldn’t go back on the plane to visit Grandma anytime we wanted, or why the cartoon characters on our new T.V. were speaking in a strange new language, or what the cold, white dust coming out of the clouds was, but no one explained it to me-- I was expected to adjust to all these new experiences on my own.
The year I turned fourteen, a little over a year ago, I realized that although I was forced to adjust to many new changes when I first came to America, there was one difference between Bangladesh and the U.S. that I hadn’t encountered before. That was the year I realized that there was something wrong with my life. That it wasn’t normal to want to never wake up ever again, that getting out of bed and brushing my teeth shouldn’t have been so difficult and mentally draining, and that not feeling any emotions for days wasn’t okay. That I was not okay.
My parents had never really talked to me about mental health, and I learned later that it was because they had never learned about mental health or mental illnesses in Bangladesh. They constantly expected me to fit all the cultural norms and be the perfect Bengali daughter, which made it hard to explain to them how I had been feeling. It was even harder to get them to even understand that my problem was real, that I actually needed help. Since discussions surrounding mental health are so uncommon in Bangladesh, they thought that mental illnesses were invented by Americans, something used as an excuse to be lazy or get special treatment.
Cultural and educational barriers weren't the only walls between us-- there was a language barrier too. My siblings and I grew up speaking English and Bengali at home, so I speak both languages pretty much fluently, but all the Bengali I had known was what my parents had taught me. They had never spoken about mental health or anything similar when I was growing up, so I didn’t know how to communicate my thoughts and emotions to them in Bengali, which in turn is why it was so difficult for them to understand what I was trying to say about my mental state. They insisted that all my problems were just caused by stress, and that if I prayed more often or went to bed earlier, all of my issues would just go away. My problems never did just disappear on their own.
After a couple of months, my mom finally agreed to schedule an appointment for me to speak to a therapist, one that I had been waiting for a long time. Without the right help and support, my depression and anxiety had seemed to be getting worse and worse. While my mom and dad met with my therapist, I hoped with all my heart that they would finally understand me and know how to help me. I wanted everything to fix itself in one day, all of the barriers that life had set up between me and my parents and the depression that had made my life so difficult. Even then, the language barrier presented itself as an issue once again. My therapist only spoke English and my parents aren’t completely fluent, so I was worried that my parents wouldn’t get anything out of their conversation. Fortunately for me, my therapist was able to get a translator for the meeting who made communicating much easier. In this case, we were able to break through the language barrier, which tremendously helped my parents to get a real insight on my illness and the steps we needed to take to help me through it.
As a first-generation migrant with mental illnesses, cultural, educational and language barriers definitely make dealing with my issues way more of a hard process. But I learned over time that understanding can take a long time to grow, that it can be achieved with constant support and commitment, and that it doesn’t just suddenly happen after one event. With help, I will be able to break down the barriers that I’ve been dealing with for my whole life. My parents still don’t completely understand all my needs and feelings, but it’s a long process, and with the support that I’ve received from my therapist, I think that I am finally in the process of healing.