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The aggregation of discrete ethnic communities into broad categories, subsequently considered as homogenous groups, has prevented the understanding of critical factors contributing to adverse mental health outcomes. This perpetuates the invisibility of large heterogenous ethnic subgroups in the United Kingdom, with serious consequences for developing mental health policy to adequately address these factors in specific ethnic communities.

We lack an in-depth understanding about the mental health of Sikhs in the UK, a group that is often buried in the collective terms “South Asian” or “Indian” in the UK. This is problematic as it does not consider the specific context (such as racism, sexism, religion, disadvantages) of important groups within the large communities brought together in these collective terms. Most Sikhs in the UK have their origins in the Punjab in Northwest India or in East Africa. The first group of Sikhs migrated to the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. The 2021 UK census recorded 524,000 Sikhs, which is an increase of 24% since the 2011 census. The Sikhs now constitute about 1% of the UK population. County Kent, in southeastern England, is home to a large Sikh community of over 74,000 Sikhs.

A research team at the University of Kent, led by anthropologist Lisa Dikomitis and psychiatrist Sukhwinder Singh Shergill, established a Sikh mental health research program to assess factors influencing mental health in Sikhs. The Kent research team includes a group of Sikh community co-researchers and international PhD students and artists, including audio documentary maker Elena Dikomitis. The research program started in the spring of 2022 with an anthropological study in one large Kent Sikh community, examining health beliefs and experiences of migration and racism across different generations of Sikhs.

Ongoing ethnographic fieldwork by Lisa Dikomitis demonstrates that mental health can be a “taboo” subject for many Sikhs. This is explicitly the case for older Sikhs—the generation that migrated to the UK, but also for their children. Despite the acculturation of UK-born Sikhs, such perceptions of mental health and help-seeking behaviors are reiterated through the generation. However, the concept of “taboo” must be understood in the Sikh community’s sociocultural-religious context. Our ethnographic research identified nuanced differences by gender, education, adherence to religious practice, generational status, and socioeconomic circumstances in relation to knowledge and attitudes around mental health. Sikhs’ gendered socialization patterns can either facilitate talking about mental health (for Sikh female youth) or present a barrier (for Sikh male youth), in both orthodox and secular Sikh families. Indeed, the same factors perceived as positive in one setting can also be negative in another; for example, Sikhs are prominently family- and community-oriented, which provides support during adversity but may lead to limited help-seeking and fear of “community gossip”—as one Sikh youth coined it—that serves as a barrier to help-seeking for mental health problems. As reflected in our ongoing ethnographic fieldwork, there are often barriers to consult health-care professionals, general practitioners in the first instance, and consistent adherence to treatment, especially medication, is perceived as generating a risk of dependence.

This audio documentary was created with recordings made during ethnographic fieldwork in 2022–2023. Several Sikh community members listened to different versions of the documentary, and we thank them for their input and suggestions.


Lisa Dikomitis

Lisa Dikomitis is professor of medical anthropology and social sciences at the University of Kent.

Sukhwinder Singh Shergill

Sukhwinder Singh Shergill is professor of psychiatry at the University of Kent.

Elena Dikomitis

Elena Dikomitis is audio documentary maker at Studio De Nok, Belgium.

Cite as

lisa-dikomitis, sukhwinder-singh-shergill, and elena-dikomitis. 2024. “Sikh Silences across Generations .” Anthropology News website, January 12, 2024.