Depression in South Asian Communities | Redbridge Talking Therapies Blog

Depression in South Asian Communities

Picture of Punjabi Depression Inventory papers. Depression in South Asian communities

I’m Ranjot, a CBT Therapist at Redbridge Talking Therapies.

As an individual born in the UK with a British nationality and Indian ethnicity, I have been brought up to speak, read and write both English and Punjabi. This exposure to Eastern and Western culture and upbringing has resulted in me developing a unique fusion of multiple cultural identities. These rich life experiences influenced the way I began to contemplate the similarities and differences in the way people experience depression within Eastern and Western communities.

Unfortunately, my grandmother was unable to speak fluent English, but she and her children would often present with  physical symptoms to their doctor with no obvious medical reason. Particularly, they experienced problems in describing in Punjabi their fluctuations in mood to health professionals who mainly understood English. As I became older and I developed a broader understanding, I began to question how the trauma of my grandfather’s death due to Operation Blue Star in Amritsar, India in 1984, and the subsequent migration to the UK, affected my grandmother and her children psychologically. Once I began my doctoral training in Counselling Psychology, my interest in these difficulties deepened.

Through research, I identified that South Asian women tend to have the highest rates of depression. Yet they are less likely to report their symptoms to professionals as they believe it is an issue they can cope with themselves, it will get better by itself, feel embarrassed to discuss it with someone, language barriers and out fear of being sectioned. This is turn leads to low rates of referrals for psychological support.

Mental health is still considered a taboo subject in the South Asian community. Individuals try to hide their struggles due to potential judgment from other members of the community, out of fear of gossip or protecting their reputation. Despite there being advances in mental health research in the South Asian community, it is still based on Western ideas. Research also highlights a lack of culturally specific assessment tools and specialist service provisions for this community. This led to my passion in developing a new culturally specific assessment of depression in the Punjabi language titled ‘Punjabi Depression Inventory’ (PDI).

My research identified that the symptoms of depression that Punjabi speaking migrants from India now residing in the UK experience, are different compared to their Western counterparts. These symptoms included but are not limited to a sinking heart, feeling sore, body aches, losing interest in attending their holy place of worship, feeling God has lost interest in them and shedding tears.

I believe the solution is education. Firstly, educating the community on the symptoms to look out for, and the support that is available. But also educating health professionals to enhance their cultural knowledge to recognise the difference in presentation. As migration is expected to increase, it is important now more than ever to effectively assess and manage the cultural presentation of depression.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with feeling low, anxious, stressed or going through a difficult time, contact our free service to find out what support is available. We offer both individual and group treatments with qualified NHS clinicians for anyone aged 18+ and registered with a GP in Redbridge. Our service is confidential, so only your GP and therapist will know about your treatment. Many of our clinicians speak a variety of languages, and we are also able to offer translators for anyone who wishes to speak in their home language.


You can call us on 0300 300 1554 option 1 - Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm

Or you can refer yourself here. 


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