Carter’s report on Shafilea Ahmed‘s death (Parents jailed for life, 4 August) highlights a tragedy for the communities and her siblings but it also raises broader complex issues for society as well. Carter is right in her observation about cultures in collision. In the late 1990s we published a series of studies on rates of self-harm across communities. These studies showed rates of self-harm in south Asian women aged 18-24 were three times higher than their British counterparts. They were more likely to attempt self-harm as a result of domestic violence, alcohol abuse and cultural conflict. This is the vulnerable age when individuals start to assert their identity and move away from home and individuate.
Prior to writing the reports we presented these findings to members of south Asian communities, largely women in public meetings in south and west London. Women and men who attended responded by saying that they knew this was going on and urged us to educate parents, peers and the wider community about the causes. We produced educational leaflets which in a follow-up study revealed that the knowledge about self-harm and potential sources of help had gone up.
Education about cultural values and the role that cultural assimilation can play is critical if future tragedies such as this are to be avoided.
Professor of mental health and cultural diversity, King’s College London