QUOTE OF THE WEEK 📜
"As a South Asian female, it’s really not talked about in my community at all, any type of mental illness....the reason I started making videos was that I was coming out of depression – and I thought there’s probably so many other people out there that experience the exact same thing and no one talks about it."
-Lilly Singh, Television host, Comedian, Author, Actress
How racialized communities tackle seasonal depression
January 16th is Blue Monday, which is known as the most depressing day of the year. It was coined by Dr. Cliff Arnall because cold and gloomy weather and credit card bills from the holidays arrived about this time in January.
Seasonal depression or the clinical term, seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.), is a type of depression that comes and goes with the changing of seasons. It affects 2 to 10% of Canadians each winter with darker and longer nights. I spoke with Toronto-based South Asian psychotherapist, Carmina Sahota (@realignbacktoyou), about symptoms of SAD. Sahota says symptoms include feeling anxious, angry, and agitated, social withdrawal, losing interest in participating in activities that are typically enjoyable, weight gain or loss, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating and feeling sad or hopeless.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the major symptoms of SAD are that it's present most of the day, lasts for more than two weeks, and impairs a person's performance in social relationships.
How Racialized Communities Get Help
I've had countless conversations with people of colour over the years on the subject of talking about mental health with their families. In nearly every case, it’s not done. Racialized people and familes don't talk about it and rarely use mental health services in their community the same way they do for their physical health.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that:
Between 2001 to 2014, 38.3% of Black Canadian residents with poor or fair self-reported mental health used mental health services compared with 50.8% White Canadian residents.
In a 2019 study published by Immigrant Minority Health:
South Asian immigrants in Canada, the U.S., and the UK experienced high rates of mental health disorders relative to their peers. Yet, they used mental health services, in comparison to their peers, at a much lower rate.
Dr. Gabor Mate, author of the excellent new book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture, writes that in Canada,
Police prejudice, including brutal violence, is notoriously inflicted on Indigenous peoples and on people of color. Nearly 30 percent of the jail population in this country is composed of Indigenous people, who make up no more than 5 percent of the general population according to Cultural Survival Quarterly.
Racialized communities don’t use mental health services?
If Indigenous and people of colour communities are experiencing high rates of anxiety and depression, then why don't they use mental health services more often? Sahota believes dialogue and education are necessary to slowly bring about change and reshape the cultural, and social norms of racialized communities. She recommends:
Normalizing the use of accessing mental health support from a mental health professional much like seeking support from a personal trainer to maintain our physical health and wellness.
Beyond normalizing discussions on mental health, another effective method is to appeal to leaders in the community. Sahota says,
Targeting influential community leaders to utilize their platforms to promote and normalize the use of mental health resources might be a helpful first step.
Roles models matter more when they look like you
Influential YouTube creator, Lilly Singh, who grew up in East Toronto in Scarborough, made a hilarious 5-minute video called Brown Parents Don't Believe in Therapy in 2021. After she mentions seeing a therapist in the skit, both her parents (played by Singh) repeatedly ask, "What will people think"?
2 million views and more than 5,000 comments later, racialized parents and kids are talking about mental health. They're rethinking why they are so quick to ask, “What will people think?” Instead of pausing to check in with ourselves, the overwhelming mentality of Indigenous and immigrant communities is that you “suck it up”, “tough it out” and "get on with it". Racialized people often associate mental illness with shame, embarrassment, and weakness. The view is that what you're feeling will pass if you just work harder. Be better and stronger. You have to be perfect. Make your parents, and elders proud.
It’s so important for role models - small and large - who look like you, to remind the community that it’s ok to talk about hard and messy topics like anxiety and depression with family, and friends. And yes, even with mental health professionals, you trust and can be yourself. The benefits are that you will feel seen, less alone, and isolated. You will be more equipped to apply tools that get you out of your funk and feel happier in your own time, unapologetically.
Not all content creators are doing well
In 2015, Lilly Singh made a YouTube video where she talked about living with depression. The video has been viewed 12 million times. On revealing her struggles with depression publicly, she told People magazine:
"I hate to play the race card, but especially as a South Asian female, it’s really not talked about in my community at all, any type of mental illness....the reason I started making videos was that I was coming out of depression – and I thought there’s probably so many other people out there that experience the exact same thing and no one talks about it.”
Ironically, research from a new book, Behind Their Screens: What Teens Are Facing (And Adults Are Missing), shows that if you are BIPOC and create content in moderation, you are likely to feel happier because online dialogue and authentic relationships is empowering and you feel heard. We covered Behind Their Screens in Issue 11. BIPOC creators, especially young creators feel they don't get taken seriously and are not heard in real life. They also experience ongoing microaggressions that cause them to shut down in real world social settings.
In 2018, Singh announced she was getting off social media to focus on her mental health after years of making videos.
“I am mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. The thing about YouTube is, in all of its glory, it kind of is a machine and it makes creators believe that we have to pump out content consistently even at the cost of our health and our life and our mental happiness.”
Like most creators who take a break, Singh returned to YouTube to make weekly videos in the summer of 2021. Well into the pandemic, in the fall of 2021, the New York Times published an article, "Young Creators Are Burning Out and Breaking Down". Younger TikTokers getting off the app cited a need to work on their mental health because making videos was no longer fun. A video called "Not all creators are doing well" described how TikTok creators felt in one word: DEPRESSED.
THE WEEK India magazine in 2022, interviewed Dr. Manoj Kumar Sharma who is a professor of clinical psychology at the Service for Healthy Use of Technology clinic. Regarding social media addiction, Sharma says, 5 to 6% of social media users are in the addictive zone, while 40 to 60% are in the problematic zone. The rest are mild users with occasional excessive use, which they can control.
Tips to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
I asked Asma Ali, a Toronto-based Somali Psychotherapist (Qualifying), and TikToker (@theothertherapist), for tips on treating seasonal depression. She suggests getting more sunlight, exercising regularly, eating healthier, and maintaining a consistent daily routine and sleep schedule. If you're unable to get natural sunlight, then get light therapy, which involves exposure to bright artificial light for 30 to 60 minutes in the morning. Light therapy helps regulate the body's internal clock. She also recommends taking a Vitamin D supplement because SAD is associated with low levels of Vitamin D. If SAD is affecting your performance at work or school or your relationships, get help from family and friends and seek help from a mental health professional.
Hug yourself, Love Yourself
Lilly Singh in her book, How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life at one point in her life was very depressed. She had suicidal thoughts, was unmotivated, and was scared. She writes,
"I didn't always love myself. I had to fall in love with myself, and it was a really awkward first date. When you’re all alone, not by force but by choice, because you don’t feel any desire to be around anyone, the only person you have to rely on is yourself. I don’t know what caused me to do it, nor do I know how I convinced myself to, but on one of my worst nights, I started to hug myself. I hugged myself to sleep and survived the night...
Over the next few weeks, I kept taking myself out on dates, and I began to grow to like myself. I wasn’t a sad, pathetic loser after all. ...What finally got me out of my depression was learning what loving myself really meant. I didn’t understand I deserved to be happy. I thought I was meant to be sad, and so I remained sad. But that’s not how you treat someone you love. You’re not okay when they’re sad. You work hard to make them happy. Once I started doing that, I started to rebuild my life."
Friends, family: You’re not alone
Seasonal depresion is hard. Anxiety and drepression are hard. The hard thing about hard things is that they feel impossible to figure out when you are alone, stay alone and shutdown from other people. Earlier in my career, I was going through a difficult time, feeling lost, without purpose and hopeless. Rose-Mary, a pyschologist friend, told me:
You're not alone. How can I best support you?
I needed to hear those words a few times before I believed her and started to feel better about myself. Wintertime can be crushing when someone is isolated, alone, depressed and doesn’t ask or want help. This winter, if your family member or friend is dealing with anxiety, seasonal depression, or prolonged depression, Sahota, recommends doing a few things for someone you care about:
"Don't tell them to snap out of it. Instead, ask them how they would like to be supported. Get them to share their feelings and remind them that you are there for support. Participate in social activities with them. And support them to seek help from a mental health professional".
As hard and faraway as it sometimes feels, you want to start moving to that place, that safer space, where you can love yourself. Where you love yourself, first. Not to a fault but to a strength. Get busy moving. Get busy living.
Photo by RODNAE Productions
This article discusses anxiety and depression. If you or someone you know is struggling, you can get help by calling or texting: Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text between 4 p.m. and midnight ET). If you live in Ontario and want to call or chat online with a registered nurse, please call Health Connect Ontario at 811. You do not need to provide your health card number.
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About Spinning Forward
My name is Flavian DeLima and I'm the founder of Spinning Forward. Spinning Forward is an independent local news company that publishes a weekly newsletter about how Black, Indigenous, and people of color content creators navigate and succeed in the online economy in the Greater Toronto Area.
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