BY LAUREN CODLING
DIVORCE could lead to mental health problems and increased stress levels within south Asian communities if it is not openly discussed.
Aatif Majid, a 38-year-old songwriter got married in 2009, but divorced six years later, because of factors that included work pressures and health challenges.
The British-Pakistani told Eastern Eye last Friday (15), that it was a “horrible experience” and in his view, Asian communities find it difficult to “just be adults and sit down and have a conversation”.
Majid said: “When I used to walk into my parent’s house, they didn’t say anything [regarding the divorce] because they didn’t want to upset me further, but there was this sense of uneasiness and there was some tension.
“No one really talked about it and I’m still asking myself the question, do I wish that we could have spoken about it or not? I think people should talk and be able to express their feelings, either way, whether they’re happy or sad.”
In 2015, there were 101,055 divorces among heterosexual couples, a decrease of 9.1 per cent compared with 2014 and a decline of 34 per cent from a recent peak in 2003.
Researchers have found that divorcees are 23 per cent more likely to suffer from sleeping or mobility problems.
Majid, who is not in touch with his ex-wife and is not currently dating, said speaking to a close friend helped him to deal with his emotions.
“I found myself getting frustrated. I knew I just needed to speak with someone and get guidance. My friend would say ‘you’re over-thinking, you’re stressing over nothing’.
“The reality is that when you are in that bubble, you don’t realise. You’re the only one who is going through the emotion. But when that is over, when you step outside of the box and can look in, you realise how right that person was.”
Dr Raj Persaud, a consultant psychiatrist working in Harley Street, told Eastern Eye he works with many Asian couples and has seen an increase in the number of divorces.
Men can struggle more with their mental health, rather than women, Dr Persaud suggested.
“No matter who initiates the divorce, very interestingly, it is often the man who does worse mental health wise afterwards. This often comes as a surprise to the man who thought the woman wouldn’t cope, but in fact women, in my experience, seem to be much better at looking after themselves after a divorce compared to men,” he said.
“Men find that, in fact, they derived a lot of support from the woman, but they probably took this for granted.”
Majid agreed and claimed that during and after the divorce proceedings, he was a “broken man” and felt that his usual passion and drive had left him.
“This is a breakdown of a marriage, you didn’t want it to happen and suddenly, it’s happening to you. It’s something that you go through emotionally,” he said.
The aspiring singer-songwriter also believes that men do not discuss emotions because
they think it is not a “macho thing” to do. Women, on the other hand, being regarded as being more sensitive than men, may find it easier to talk about their experience and seek help, he suggested.
“Men just don’t talk about it. Whether it is an ego thing (or not, I don’t know) but men only come to talk about it once it’s built up. Then it comes out in a bang.”
Henry Brookman, a senior partner at Brookman Solicitors, a law firm specialising in divorce, claimed that the difficulty for south Asian men living in modern British society can be particularly problematic as they feel they should uphold traditions within their family and culture.
“For a man in modern British society, on the one hand you’ve got a much more non-traditional secular society where divorce doesn’t have a stigma – but you’re running up against the traditional values at the same time – which their parents may have. So it does produce significant difficulties for the male.”
Brookman said another stress of divorce is the impact on traditions within Asian families that may occur if a marriage breaks down.
“Of course, it is also difficult for a woman, but I think traditionally, [a male is known to provide] support for his parents during their old age and to take over as the head of the family.
“It has all those connotations of failure – not just of a marriage but looking after
his family,” Brookman said.
Maria Mead, a Counselling Directory member and expert, told Eastern Eye that divorce can have a “huge” impact on men and can create feelings of “grief and loss”.
“Many men may also feel a sense of inferiority and insecurity arising from divorce, especially if their identity has been influenced by being the provider of the family,” she explained.
“A lot of men also feel an acute sense of isolation which leads to loneliness, especially if their children are left with the mother. This can lead to an increased risk factor in depression and suicide.”
Majid, who did not have children with his ex-wife, used music as an outlet to help him through the divorce period and advised that anyone going through the same situation should talk to someone to gain a new perspective.
“Step outside of that situation. Consider it, reflect and make positive decisions moving forward,” he said. “If you start achieving again, you won’t feel like a failure regardless of what anybody says.”