“Raheem’s” story was unique in that his experience was not one you’d typically think could or would happen with a 21-year-old male. A young man who’s tall, fit, and capable of taking care of himself. Yet, it highlights how feeble we all indeed are when we’re faced with family, cultural, and mental health issues.
Unlike many of the stories I’m sharing on this site, I connected with Raheem outside of my mental health advocacy work; he was a student where I served as a professor. It was during those exchanges that he heard about my son’s suicide and secret mental health challenges. So he reached out to me.
“I’m scared to say anything; my family would kill me if they knew I did. I think I’m suffering from depression, but I don’t know. What I’ve heard you say about depression and its symptoms makes sense to me; it sounds like me. But I don’t know.
What I do know is that I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. I have family and friends but always feel alone. I don’t enjoy being around anyone, preferring to talk via text. I’m in college because I have to be, but I don’t really have any direction or passion for doing anything specific.
I’ve often considered self-harm because I don’t know what happiness I’ll ever get from life. I don’t remember ever feeling joy; it’s all just so hopeless.”
Not being a psychologist or therapist, I, of course, was not able to diagnose Raheem with depression, but I was undoubtedly alarmed by what I heard. He certainly displayed the signs of depression, and the mere fact that he said he’s considered self-harm meant I needed to encourage him to seek professional help. Step one was talking to his parents, which he was reluctant to do.
“Yeah, uh, that’s not a thing. My family doesn’t believe in ‘depression.’ It’s not something one suffers from unless they’re deemed crazy and should be locked up in an asylum. And even then, any help I received would have to be in the secrecy of the night so neighbours would not see.”
I was unrelenting in my pursuit to get him to talk to someone and reach out to his family for support. I insisted they would understand. My ignorance was on full display here.
He wasn’t present in class for a few days, so I reached out to his peers. They arranged for us to meet. I was thankful to see him but not all bruised and bandaged. I feared that he tried to hurt himself, but that wasn’t the case.
“You convinced me that I needed help and that talking to my family and professional would be good for me. I confided in my parents, but their first reaction was the fear of who else I told. They told me it was just everyday stress, there’s nothing wrong with me, and that talking to someone about it would disgrace the family.
When I added that I had already talked to you and made an appointment with the school’s counsellor, they kicked me out of the house.
I went to my brother’s house, who lived nearby with his wife and kids. My parents had called him, so he already knew. I was greeted with a beating for shaming the family. Luckily his wife allowed me to stay at their house, but they’re not talking to me at all. I’ve yet to speak to my parents.”
Even though Raheem eventually got professional help (and has now graduated), the guilt has not lifted. I respect cultural differences. Everyone has the right to believe what they want but having lost a child myself; I cannot imagine that any religion or culture is justified in actively pushing out someone who needs help.
I’ve now learned of many similar cases where religion or culture has gotten in the way of someone seeking and receiving help for mental illnesses or addictions. My own family included.
Sometimes, we don’t have the right advice to share. And that’s OK. Often it’s enough just to listen; lend a shoulder to lean upon. Listening without judgement can make all the difference.
- Students: You may not have control over your family’s cultural views or biases regarding mental health or addiction. But YOU are valuable, your feelings count, and you are WORTHY to receive support and love.
As you can see, you’re not alone if you feel your family will not accept your condition. If you’re too afraid to speak to them, many people do and will accept you and will listen without judgment. I promise. I encourage you to talk privately with the on-campus counselling services or find a local resource in the link below.
- Parents: I have few words here. Having lost a son who did not share his suffering before taking his life, I would gladly accept any shame society, family, or others placed on me if it meant I could have saved my son.
- Another important lesson learned: We don’t always have to have the right advice to share. And that’s OK. Often it’s enough just to listen; lend a shoulder to lean upon. Sometimes, simply listening without judgement can make all the difference.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Raheem’s story is one of the hundreds of similar stories shared with me over the years. You’re not alone.
If it’s an emergency and you or someone you know is planning on hurting themselves, please call 911. If you’re struggling, you can find other resources here: Canada | USA
*To protect the student, the names and locations listed in this story have been changed.