The theme of this year's South Asian Heritage Month, which runs from 18 July to 17 August, 2022, is Journey's of Empire. Dr Koravangattu Valsraj, Consultant Psychiatrist shares his reflections on the impact of cultural perspectives in seeking access to healthcare.
London is uniquely placed to be the melting pot of all cultures and can pride itself to be the confluence of the ‘Journeys of Empire’.
For me, working at South London and Maudsley as a trainee and subsequently as a consultant offered the opportunity to gain insights to the ‘heterogeneity’ of South Asian Heritage and each interaction brought about new learning, understanding, thought of the broader cultural perspectives and the concept of sub cultures within the wider culture and sub culture (i.e. the vastness of cultural dimension). This remains fascinating and enriching.
We are so fortunate in healthcare and particularly so in mental health as the one unifying force across cultures - kindness, care and compassion becomes more important during time of distress for the patient and their families.
Working for South London and Maudsley offered me the excellent learning opportunity to understand the impact of cultural perspectives in seeking access to health care.
I have had the privilege to care for patients and families during crisis which is an exceptionally difficult time for the patient and their loved ones. The situation becomes more complex for people from different cultures when the distress and break down happens in a different cultural milieu.
Being from a South Asian background, people of similar backgrounds have found it easier to interact as they feel they would be understood better and can communicate openly. Having discussed in subsequent reviews, I have learnt that the key is trust and feeling at ease to connect and seek support. There are issues of taboo and stigma associated with mental health and the statutory model of services does pose challenges as it can sometimes create unintended barriers, thereby delaying seeking care and support.
Having listened to patients and families, we were able to set up carers support and with support from professionals from wide ranging cultural backgrounds, we could support patients and their families during crisis. This support service received commendations and awards for offering timely support to people from other cultures.
I have learnt fascinating facets of South Asian heritage and culture over the last two decades and I continue to learn. Both heritage and culture have varied strands of heterogeneity and continues to evolve.
I continue to work with colleagues and charities in this field and recently authored a report with ST trainee Dr Sam Gnanapragasam titled Improving the Mental Health of South Asian Populations in United Kingdom. This was a report for two charities Careif and Ethnic Inclusion Foundation.