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This paper aims to critically analyse a number of issues related to social determinants of depression among South-Asian women. Within the scope of this research, we assess the factors contributing to the development of the above psychological problem, focusing on culture, domestic violence, and employment as the major features in the depression development paradigm among this social group. We provide a literature review of various scholarly articles, books, and magazines studying the connection between ethnic communities’ cultural, religious, and social practices and psychological issues encountered by the female population. Recent studies by Feryad Hussain and Ray Cochrane (2004) as well as Nirmal Kumari (2004) are used in the methodology section of the paper to analyze data and examine important findings related to the role of social determinants in South Asian women suffering from depression. A concluding section aims to offer a review and provide recommendations of the future actions needed to improve the psychological health of the minority women dealing with depression in the contemporary British society.
Over the past few decades the women’s movement world-wide has raised the numerous problems faced by females in ethnic communities in Britain and the US on a global level. There has been an abundance of research and knowledge which has contributed significantly to understanding of minority women suffering from depression. In Britain, research has primarily been dominated by Western feminist theory, which has proved inadequate and inappropriate in considering the experiences of South-Asian women (AAA). There is a scarcity of research on the experiences of South-Asian women and girls, and little attention is given to the significance of racism, ethnicity, patriarchal and religious systems which compound their experience resulting in depression. Myths and stereotypes about Asian women, the media preoccupation with arranged/forced marriages and culture conflicts and clashes contribute to distorting the discourse on these women (Anthiasand Yuval-Davis 1992). Historical and practical evidence suggests that South-Asian wome and girls experience specific problems in relation to domestic and family violence in addition to the patriarchal racism (Brah 1992) they experience as members of black communities in Britain.
This paper draws from exploratory studies which were aimed at identifying the key social issues that were significant in the development of depression by South-Asian women living in Britain (Hussain and Cochrane 2004; Kumari 2004). These researches came as a result of work with South-Asian women generally and with young women specifically, in both youth work and refuge settings. The issues raised by Hussain and Cochrane (2004) and Kumari (2004) in developing work with women, their over-representation in refuges and the demand and establishment of several single women’s hostels specifically for young women of South-Asian heritage, both locally and nationally, highlighted the need to identify the factors that were critical and distinctive in their experiences. An understanding of these specific issues is essential in order to inform the development of appropriate and effective policy and practice responses. Group work and interviews with young women, practitioners and research participants in the studies by Hussain and Cochrane (2004) and Kumari (2004) reveal a complex web of interacting influences at the individual, family, communal and societal levels which make their experience of depression significantly different from both white and male counterparts. The analysis is based on participants’ perceptions of the ways in which the power relations within the wider society complicate the issues and limit their choices and opportunities for contesting and challenging their situations. This paper considers how culture, domestic violence, and employment interact to shape these experiences of depression by South-Asian women and argues that this complexity needs to be examined through a deep understanding of their historical, social, cultural and political realities.
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We employ the term ‘South-Asian’ to refer to women of Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani heritage, including those who have come to Britain via East Africa. South-Asian women in Britain are an extremely diverse group whose individual experiences are shaped by their age, gender, class/caste, religion, cultural practices and traditions, and rural-urban origins, as well as their common experience of colonialism, racism and similar patriarchal systems (Brah 1992).
Even at a basic level, the wide range of experiences reported as difficult, dominating or influenced by the family provides interesting issues to describe depression of women in ethnic communities in Britain. The terms ‘depression’ or ‘psychological diffficulties’ are limited as they refer to suffering of women often closed within their communities and do not cover the range of experiences reported.
Anthias and Yuval-Davis (1992) provide useful terminology to examine the factors and conditions linking to depression among women. The authors widen their analyses to include any cultural, social, or economical tendencies that are experienced by the woman or girl that have the effect of hurting her and causing depression in this female.
However, the fact that the authors are exploring the continuum of society violence against women and girls and their predominantly white sample inevitably limits their application to women of South-Asian heritage. The terms currently in use to name abuse of women and girls are problematic as they all imply sexual relationship (past or present) between the abuser and the abused. In considering the factors leading to depression among South-Asian women it is important to recognise two factors: that the issues may not be sexual in nature and white women or factors contributing to depression may be deeply rooted in ethnic culture and, thus, can’t be easily spotted or resolved.
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Other terms, which, on face value, seem relevant, become inappropriate when applied to South-Asian women as they have been conceived entirely from Western perspectives. One such example is the term ‘family violence’.
Richard Gelles (1993) is one most prominent proponents of the family violence approach. This social structural approach to violence in the family identifies the source of violence in the ideology of the modern family. Rooted in Western perspectives on the individual and family, it is limited in its relevance to people who do not share the ethos and values of individualism. South-Asian people belong to collectivistic cultures where the individual is seen as interdependent and related to others and not autonomous and separated from others (Imam 1999).
Robinson (1995) contends that it is extremely difficult to understand the lifestyles of minorities using theories developed by researchers who rely on white participants in their studies. What is needed is a framework which is reflective of the social, political and psycho-cultural systems they inhabit.
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