Sikhs, Suicide and Silence Imandeep Kaur's blog http://www.imandeepkaur.com/sikhs-suicide-and-silence/ I wish it were as acceptable to go for a mental wellness check up, as it is to have your blood pressure checked. I wish it was acceptable to tell your friend, I think I am really struggling with life – I need help, as it is to say I’ve broken my leg come and shower me with sympathy and gifts! I wish that if someone admitted they were having suicidal thoughts or that they feel the world would be a better place without them, that one, they wouldn’t be mocked, be labeled as ‘mad’, or two, and that it wasn’t brushed aside as a cry for attention. It is hard to actively care, its naïve to say that all suicide can be prevented – as that says that the families that were aware didn’t try hard enough, many do, many struggle for years to help their loved ones battle mental health problems. There are incredible organisations exists that are doing valuable work at all levels to reduce stigma and to make it ok to talk. Time to Change springs to mind – what an incredible brave campaign tackling one of the biggest social problems of our time the stigma attached to mental health. To say nothing is being done, would be a crass generalisation that doesn’t recognise that so much is being done. I am proud at this countries commitment to tackle these issues. ‘1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any one year. Statistically that means you are likely to know someone who has been affected.’ Time to Change, 2013. When I take a closer look at our community however, there are alarming observations that are specific – many are documented and tackled by research in to BME communities, faith communities and mental health, some are set out as recommendations of how we can tackle the problems and there are small organisations across the country tackling these specific issues. Recent partnerships between a number of faith leaders and prominent campaigns fill my heart with hope. However, as with a number of high level programmes I have worked with some of the heart of the community issues get lost as a number of heads of organisations push their own agendas, and some of the community truths fail to surface. This is somewhat of a personal plea, someone you know has a mental health problem, someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, and what’s worse is someone you know is not sure where to turn. The last two years have seen a spate of suicides within the Sikh community, following a public outpouring of grief, there is a loud cry of shock, disbelief ‘but he/she was such a bubbly person, slightly more quietly the inner circle express their were signs, a few private conversations say ‘how selfish, it’s the family who have to deal with it now, how could they have been so thoughtless, it wasn’t that bad’, there is a near unspoken moment where people remember the suicide is a sin in Sikhi – and there is heartfelt prayer for the soul. Then there is silence, stigma, and cycle continues. There isn’t an open space, others don’t encourage discussion, their isn’t open arms and their isn’t a new and renewed commitment in the local community to confront these issues, or support our community with mental health. Of course it was the selfish individuals fault for putting everyone through it, I mean it is definitely worse for us all the have to pick up the mess and that is definitely harder – it cannot have been absolute agony to be so rock bottom that you took your own life, no its definitely the selfish individuals fault. Well, that’s ok then lets move on. I wouldn’t speak on behalf of the whole Sikh community around the world, but it certainly isn’t even very ‘Sikh’ of you to suffer with depression here in my community – how on earth as an all loving practising Sikh could you possibly even consider depression to be a problem, you should be praying, you have all the tools, there is no option to not be in high spirits all the time. If you are not, then this is also a reflection on how good a ‘Sikh’ you are, how much time you spend praying and you have to just solve your problems. The jewel of Sikhi is a diamond one that I have personally experienced, the unfaltering love and support of Vahegurooo (God) and Gurbani (the world of God), is not something you can describe. I have seen and heard of many saved from a multitude of issues through loving devotion to their faith, of course as a baptised Sikh for me it really is the only best friend, soul mate and truth I have. But, Sikhi is practical too; actually being a citizen of the world, of the community, and to my neighbour’s is at the heart of Sikhi for me. So, why have I seen a spate of suicides, 100s of people young and old suffering with depression, loneliness, and a host of mental health issues silently in their own homes, suffering and silently withering away? After having children, its crucial we paint a picture of perfectness you certainly could never be openly struggling with postnatal depression, when leaving your home you certainly couldn’t struggle to adapt to your new circumstances. As a man it’s harder to open up and admit to any problems, it’s a weakness, as a Sikh man it’s a reflection on your whole character. As a woman, you mustn’t do anything other that adapt successfully and fulfill your multiple roles with complete success and without complaint, as a Sikh woman you mustn’t ever admit that this is very hard or that your struggling. There is a host of different levels of awareness that are required mainly around different types of mental health problems that exist. How many people are affected? How many of us know that it’s a real illness, an imbalance of our chemistry not something that can often be helped? But, there is always help, there is a way out, and its not always a debilitating life long battle that must end with our community, our neighbour’s, our friends, our parents, and our siblings feeling there is no hope and no way out. There are a number of anonymous and confidential support organisations available around the city, and I encourage everyone to share as many as possible But today, my plea is much simpler – its to every person who reads this blog, its especially to all of those people I know in the UK – that someone you know is really struggling, it takes to bravery, effort, care and commitment to be there. It is our duty as compassionate lights of Vahegurooo (God) to be there as much as we possibly can. Lets start making it ok to talk in our community, next time someone takes their own life, and as brutal as its sounds there will be a next time make sure it wasn’t someone you knew who had no option, no outlet, no compassion that it was a reflection of their bad character, their lack of faith, them as a bad mother, father, sister, brother, friend and Sikh – that instead was something we recognised as real and should have supported them through to a brighter future. Lets somehow begin to end this cycle of Sikhs, Suicide and Silence that is gripping our community whether we choose to admit it or not. I wish it was ok to talk, I wish was acceptable in our community to open, I wish it didn’t make us bad Sikhs, I wish we didn’t judge – because maybe the people we’ve lost just in the last two years would still be here today. Or maybe, we will just continue to maintain this awkward silence over the issue and our responsibilities to our community and each other? In advance of this rather provoking blog, I feel I will be forced to apologise for being so frank. Maybe it is me who is wrong, perhaps keeping our thoughts and emotions to ourselves and trapping them inside is the right way. Maybe for many this works, when it fails it seems to fail catastrophically in our community however. I have been reminded on a number of occasions of my foolish actions whether it is talking about the critical need for interfaith harmony or the urgent need for real dialogue between the Sikh and Muslim communities in the UK, or a number of other issues I have been vocal about or worked on. Maybe I just don’t get it, but I’m convinced unless we share our stories, unless we prepare to be vulnerable how can we expect to build strength, love, trust, unity and bridges across our community. If we can’t build them within our own community how can expect to start building them across the country and world. How long can we hide behind this veil – its exhausting, unproductive, and has no depth in its achievements. I think as humans we all hope that someone will share with us that we are not alone in our struggles – but deeper than that we have to build unity, trust and love as a community to go and be the social activists Guru Nanak Dev Jee ordered us to be – if we cant feel safe in our own home and community, how can we go out an be citizens of the world? Someone somewhere is longing deep inside to share their story to not feel alone, someone close to you is suffering, support their struggle with humility, honesty, love and compassion – I’m sort of sure it works. aao sakhee gun kaaman kareehaa jeeo Come, O sisters lets make virtue our charm.