Opinion and Editorial

KT Edit: Stigma adds to loneliness in Asians

Prasun Sonwalkar/Dubai
Filed on September 23, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly enhanced the sense of isolation and loneliness among many in the community, but few make bold to talk about it

“Log kya sochenge? (What will people think?).” That is the common response when you broach the subject of loneliness in any group of Asians. At the best of times, people from the Indian subcontinent who move to Britain invariably encounter a vastly different level of social interaction, compared to the easier, more informal and usually intense interactions in everyday life back home — though the situation may be fast changing in urban areas.

The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly enhanced the sense of isolation and loneliness among many in the community, but few make bold to talk about it. It takes a while for Sayema, who arrived here as a student from Pakistan in 2011, to admit that loneliness is an issue, and adds that there is a stigma attached to asking for help, because in Asian cultures you are taught early on to deal with problems yourself.

Several charity organisations have focused on the pandemic’s impact on loneliness in non-white communities, described in official discourse as BAME: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. University College London’s Covid-19 Social Study found that 23 per cent of people from ethnic minorities reported often feeling lonely, compared to 17 per cent of white people and that 42 per cent of people from ethnic minorities experienced discrimination during the pandemic. The British Red Cross found that 38 per cent of people from ethnic minorities often felt ‘alone’, ‘like they have no one to turn to’, compared to 28 per cent of white people.

British Red Cross also reported that stigma is a recurring theme in non-white communities: “While stigma attached to loneliness was high across all ethnic respondent groups, Pakistani and Gypsy, Roma and Irish traveller respondents in the survey appeared to face stigma around loneliness the most”. It found that 70 per cent of the Pakistani group said they would worry what others thought about their feelings of loneliness; the figure for the Indian group was 46 per cent. Some were ‘too proud’ to ask for help and, for some, seeking support to them felt like a sign of weakness.

Its report adds: “Our research shows that people from BAME backgrounds are more at risk of experiencing certain factors that cause loneliness and can often face greater barriers to accessing support. Sixty-seven per cent of respondents who felt they didn’t belong in their community said they were always or often lonely, compared to just 16 per cent who felt they did belong. Discrimination, bullying and disrespect increases loneliness — racism, discrimination and xenophobia are all additional triggers of loneliness that have all too often been overlooked…People from BAME backgrounds often feel less able to access community activities and support — ‘not having enough free time’ and ‘affordability’ are barriers to accessing support that are more commonly cited by all minority ethnic groups than by white British groups…Poor health, along with its effects on confidence, can be complicated for some people from BAME backgrounds due to lack of resources, pre-existing feelings of not being welcome or respected, and particular experiences of stigma.”

According to Campaign to End Loneliness, even before the pandemic, people from ethnic minorities were more likely to be on lower incomes and finding it difficult to manage financially, which are key risk factors for loneliness. Black people and people of Bangladeshi or Pakistani heritage were also more likely to report that their financial situation had worsened during the pandemic. Covid-19 mortality rates have been much higher among people of Black and South Asian heritage, with all the loss and anxiety it entails, as well as leading to more bereaved people newly living alone.

Several religious centres, groups and professional organisations with origins to specific countries or regions in the Indian subcontinent extended material and other help during lockdowns, particularly to international students who found themselves confined to university or private accommodation, unable to return to their home countries, nor continue their stay in Britain when sources of income ran out. They included several medical graduates from India, Pakistan and other countries who were in Britain to sit exams to qualify to work in the National Health Service, but were stranded for long, when the exams were cancelled, until groups such as the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin helped them out.

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