“The Imams who run marriage workshops, the first thing they say men should look for is a belief in God as a priority,” Shaima tells me. “But I don’t think that’s true. The men I have seen all know I am a devout, practicing Muslim – it’s when I tell them about my issue that they become hesitant; you can see it immediately. They try to be polite about it, but I can see from how they look at me after I tell them that they’ve been scared. I remember one guy I met, that, as soon as I told him, made up an excuse to leave and never contacted me again”.
Shaima isn’t alone in this struggle. Although there is no publicly accessible data on the number of British South Asians with mental health illnesses, information from the National Health Service does suggest that Black and Minority Ethnic communities are both the most at risk, and benefit the least from existing mental health services, especially if they’re women. Furthermore, because of the continued stigma around mental health conditions, treatment itself is particularly difficult
for women of south Asian descent – a continued problem acknowledged by charities Including Mind and the British Asian Trust.
Sharing a mental health condition with your partner or family can present a daunting task for anyone, but for women like Shaima, having a mental health condition, especially one that could pose restrictions on getting married and having children, can also be seen as a hit on her family’s reputation, a term known as "Izzat". She tells me, “If I can’t get married, I’m not the one who’s blamed, it’ll be my parents, particularly my mum. Because of [the stigma] on mental health and the fact it’s so misunderstood, it’s more likely that family members and the community will believe my parents were cursed by God for bad deeds ”.
For others, mental health issues can be seen as a sign of spiritual possession, black magic, or other types of "incurable" diseases, all things that make marriage – possibly the most important tenant of South Asian family culture – an extremely difficult prospect.