SAMHIN, South Asian Mental Health Initiative and Network, is an organization committed to increasing access to mental health care within the South Asian community and defying perceived stigma and taboo associated with mental illnesses. Dr. Samita Chandi MD and Dr. Reina Puri PharmD, volunteered to promote SAMHIN’s mission and increase dialogue emphasizing the importance of prioritizing our mental needs and well-being. They provided insight into their experience piloting this mental health screening at the Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara in Port Reading, New Jersey.

The leadership at the Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara recognized the pressing needs of their community and supported our initiative. SAMHIN invited a diverse team of therapists, psychiatrists, and social workers to provide a multidisciplinary assessment and assist community members to obtain a wide range of comprehensive resources and references. As passionate advocates, Dr. Chandi and Dr. Puri strived to provide a safe space for people to complete a mental health questionnaire without judgment. The medical team was able to assess and individualize their conversations about mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, etc., or substance use disorders based on the results from the screening. The team faced some push-back, given conversations about mental health may be difficult or uncomfortable for some, but we discussed the long-term negative implications of neglecting our own mental well-being.

Dr. Makhija mentored us and provided strategies to foster more open communications. He encouraged us to reiterate that health is multifactorial, comprising physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and mental components. We explained how many tend to overcompensate for our physical health and neglect our mental well-being. We adopted creative ways to counsel patients about the benefits of balancing all components that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. People felt more comfortable having open and honest conversations when we acknowledged all aspects of health versus feeling judged or misunderstood when we only focused on a stigmatized topic. Dr. Chandi and Dr. Puri emphasized the importance of proactively making time for wellness, so people are not obligated to take time out to address their illnesses.

The collaborative efforts had a rippling effect on participants and contributed to a successful event. We were better able to gauge the needs of our community, helping us develop future outreaches to positively impact a larger audience.

From self, public, professional, and institutional, there is no shortage of stigma when it comes to the topic of mental health. One of the most common South Asian phrases, “what will people say?,” can evoke feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, or hopelessness while further perpetuating the stigma around mental health. As a community, it is vital that we normalize dialogues, increase access to reputable resources, and support one another. Whether it is checking in with our family and friends, offering a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen, the changes we need to make begin with ourselves.

Instead of asking “what will people say?”, we should shift the narrative to “what will happen if I do not get help?”

Thank you, volunteers and Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara for organizing this event!

By Samita Chandi, MD
Psychiatry Resident, Michigan and SAMHIN volunteer

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