These days, modern life portrayed in magazines and social media (like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat) is all about ‘image’.

Slim, healthy, beautiful people, smiling and happy, telling the world about what an amazing time they are having.

Negative feelings and experiences are kept private. The hidden message is ‘No one wants to know about our worries’, ‘Depressed people are to be avoided’, ‘If you’re not happy all the time, then you’re a failure’.

Little surprise then that people who feel anxious, stressed or miserable often bottle their feelings up and feel guilty and ashamed about even feeling ‘negative’.

The world we live in can be scary and stressful.

Outside the ‘bubble’ of social media, people living real lives have to deal with less glossy realities: bereavement, relationship issues, money worries, family problems, the demands of looking after children, work pressures, anxiety over appearance, lack of self-confidence, illness, pain, depression. And, most tragically of all, people from all walks of life can feel so overwhelmed that they can see no way out other than committing suicide.

We may read about or know someone who took their own life and think ‘that’s shocking…they seemed perfectly OK’.

Many people take the ultimate step of killing themselves simply because they have felt unable or unwilling to share what they were going through.

Fortunately attitudes towards mental health are changing.

The stigma of seeking help is much less evident than it used to be. Counselling is a service that many ordinary people now use.

People find that, by sharing their issues with someone trained to listen - who empathises with them, and who can offer support - is a valuable way of helping them to deal with an issue that is troubling them or it helps them to develop the self-esteem to make a positive change in their lives.

However, counselling is still under-used by ethnic minority groups. Research suggests there may be several reasons for this.

Within Asian cultures emotional problems may be seen as shameful or stigmatising.

Physical symptoms are much more readily accepted. Even recognising one has an emotional problem may be an alien concept.

Even if someone feels they need to talk to someone outside their family or community, they may not know where to go; or may think that counselling isn’t ‘right’ for them – or they won’t be understood - because counsellors are mainly from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds.

I understand this reluctance to seek help with emotional or personal problems.

As a British-Asian woman and Muslim, I grew up in a culture where sharing problems with ‘outsiders’ was not encouraged, and where having feelings of sadness or being unable to cope were not recognised. My own personal experiences inspired me to study counselling and mental health. I had my share of stress and challenges.

These include relationship issues, bringing up five children whilst pursuing my academic studies, and suffering from chronic agonising back pain.

I am well aware that ethnic minority groups may feel ashamed to admit psychological or emotional issues, or may see problems as being an expression of Divine Will.

After finishing my academic studies, I set up my own counselling service (Think Positive Counselling) in Blackburn. I am now a counselling and mental health advocate who specialises in counselling Asian and minority ethnic clients.

I have counselled clients with a range of issues – domestic violence, anxiety, suicidal thoughts – and her ‘success stories’ with clients demonstrates the value of my confidential sensitive approach.

Some of my clients have revealed that they were initially reluctant to seek help, because they were feeling suicidal – and such thoughts and feelings are strongly condemned by traditional religious beliefs.

Another reason for Asians being reluctant to use counselling is that they may perceive mainstream counselling to be predominantly ‘white’ and ‘not for them’. I have found that the challenge is encouraging people to take the first step – admit they are struggling and suffering – and then to contact a counsellor.

Once they have made that brave positive step I find that clients begin to open up about their feelings.

A crucial element of this ‘opening up’ is clients trusting and feeling safe with me.

I can be contacted on Sooletyasin238@gmail.com.