By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar
For Parijat Deshpande, mental health isn’t just a phrase, it’s a calling. As a marriage and family therapist intern and psychology lecturer at UC Berkley, she saw first-hand the stigma of mental health in the South Asian community.
“When I was in graduate school, I got the opportunity to work with with a few South Asians including women,” said Deshpande. “I wanted to work with more and I discovered they weren’t coming for therapy and wanted to know why It turns out many South Asians don’t come to seek therapy because there’s a stigma with mental health,” said Deshpande, founder of MySahana. “More importantly, there’s a lot of misinformation about what mental health is and not a lot of information that applies to South Asians so they can realize if they need to get help.”
That’s exactly the inspiration behind her brainchild, MySahana, meaning “my fortitude or patience” in Sanskrit. MySahana, launched in January 2010, is a nonprofit organization designed to reduce stigma and increase awareness about emotional health and wellness in the South Asian community. Through easy-to-understand descriptions of numerous emotional health issues, educational workshops and culturally sensitive coping strategies, the hope is to empower the South Asian community to realize their inner fortitude, take charge of their mental health and make better and more informed decisions for a healthy lifestyle.
Deshpande says her vision for MySahana is ensure vision South Asian community and families have accurate information about emotional health and wellness and that has the knowledge to make informed decisions about their mental and physical health. The organization is a non-profit dedicated to spreading awareness and removing stigma.
MySahana.org provides informative articles and information for anyone interested and contact information for the group. Volunteers are the backbone of the organization, which emphasizes that it is not a group with clinicians or a place to access medical care, rather it’s place for information.
“If they call in they’re talking to one of our many volunteers. we provide the education and awareness, and if someone wants to go beyond the informative stage and wants to get South Asian service providers, we direct them to south Asian service providers listed on our website.”
Deshpande says during her time as a therapist, she’s seen a lot of South Asian women at different stages of life with challenges that can result in mental health issues.
“I see a lot of working moms experiencing a lot of guilt because they have unrealistic expectations and that’s what they measure their success and worth to. If they can’t meet these expectations they experience a high level of guilt and shame that affects their self-esteem, which can trigger depression, and anxiety.” She adds working moms who have just gone back to work often have a high risk of depression.
“If you’ve gone back soon after giving birth, there’s a higher risk of postpartum depression. Being alone, being away and feeling like you’re just doing something for yourself and not for your child or family, can lead to depression. Some moms also can become more perfectionists and that can increase the risk of developing certain anxiety disorders as well.”
Another life stage of high mental health risk Deshpande says can be once children have grown up and left home. She says often mothers don’t realize taking care of themselves first is key.
“In the immigrant populations where kids have grown up and left the house, we see many people asking us, ‘I don’t even know who I am anymore and I don’t know what to do anymore’ because their entire life was identified by their role as a mother. Keeping boundaries from an early stage in your family life between your life as an individual and your life as a mother is actually going to make you a better mother. So taking that walk, calling your friend or taking that massage goes a long way to do doing that.”
She emphasizes having a healthy relationship with your child from an early stage can also play a big role in family dynamics during periods of transition.
“When grown children get married or go to college, it’s the biggest challenge a family can experience especially during that transition. If that original bond was shaky to begin with, South Asian mothers can have a very difficult time handling a new change like a marriage, or a new family. So it’s that time, we see a lot of women getting very upset at their children. They can take out some of their anxiety on their children and that parent-child relationship can get even more frayed at that point. The most important thing is to have a healthy relationship with your husband first, because your child cannot fulfill a need that your spouse should fill. If you have a really strong marriage then your relationship with your child is going to be focused on how to be the best parent possible. When that happens your much more open to seeing your child as an individual and seeing what they need for from you, making some of these transitions easier to bear.”
For more information on MySahana and Parijat Deshpande visit: www.mysahana.org