When the pandemic first began last year, Raj Kaur realized that there was a need for mental health support within the South Asian diaspora. As a result, she created a directory of therapists that individuals can access from anywhere across the globe.
Kaur spearheaded a hub of culturally sensitive mental health professionals, who are passionate about helping South Asian’s take control of their present and their futures.
Kaur is also the founder of Pink Ladoo, an organization dedicated to smashing the patriarchy and eradicating South Asian gender bias. She received an outpour of messages early on in the pandemic through Pink Ladoo, from individuals looking for mental health resources.
Kaur expected to receive a few leads to refer her followers to, but instead received hundreds, thus prompting the creation of southasiantherapists.org.
“We felt obliged to do something responsible with that data and make sure that it could benefit and be accessed by as many people as possible. Thus, the directory was born,” she said.
The directory operates as a bridge, connecting individuals to the help they are looking for, especially amidst the worldwide pandemic. The directory’s social media page is very informative on topics relating to mental health such as divorce, boundaries, sacrifice, and intergenerational trauma.
“I’ve had many friends over the years say they got close to going to therapy but gave up when they couldn’t find a South Asian therapist. I want to make the step of finding the right South Asian therapist as easy as possible and this directory is my way of simplifying that process,” Kaur said.
And the therapists part of Kaur's directory are well-aware of how meaningful it is to speak to a professional that comes from a similar background.
“There’s something special and validating about telling someone your experiences without giving an explanation of the cultural implications,” Pallavi Ankolekar, a psychotherapist from the USA said. Ankolekar is also a registered practitioner with Kaur's directory.
According to Psychology Today, a culturally sensitive therapist is someone who recognizes and understands one's own culture, how it influences their relationship with a client, and also understands and responds to a culture that is different from their own.
“For me, it has helped me feel more vulnerable and open to my healing process,” said Ankolekar.
I realized the importance of a culturally sensitive therapist after I became an Ambassador with the South Asian Mental Health Alliance Association. I witnessed members of the community step up, challenge mental health stigma within the diaspora, and ignite change.
It was powerful to see individuals work together and pave the way to a more inclusive and understanding community together. As far as we have come, the idea of working with a culturally sensitive therapist though is still a newer phenomenon.
It definitely was not as widespread when I was in high school, as it is now.
I was 14 at the time, trying to navigate the impact of my parent’s marriage ending while having to balance school, making friends, and my developing anxiety and depression.
Although I reflect fondly on my experience with my counsellor, I can’t help but wonder how it would have been different, and perhaps more beneficial, for me to have a counsellor who better understood the stigma and repercussions often associated with divorce in South Asian families.
Prior to their legal separation, my parents engaged in an “invisible divorce,” which is a term coined by therapist Parijat Desphande.
It describes an emerging trend in South Asian families where the wife and husband live separate lives from each other, but choose not to legally divorce to avoid the social, economical, and emotional disadvantages.
Part of the reason culturally specific supports are so important then, is because there is a strong notion within the South Asian community against seeking help.
In many circumstances, children are expected to suppress their emotions, silently face their problems, and overcome their hurdles on their own, because therapy isn’t as common or as easily accessible.
Many South Asians also deal with a lack of understanding between themselves and parents, as well as a severe gender bias between boys and girls in the household that can exacerbate some struggles.
A lot of the time, we grow up with certain social constructs that we don’t even know are impacting our lives and decisions.
With that being said, there can be many challenges for a fellow South Asian on the road to recovering their mental health.
For years, illnesses such as depression and anxiety were looked down upon and dismissed within the South Asian community.
It’s only now that thankfully, things are slowly changing. Mental health is something that more and more people in the diaspora are beginning to understand.
It comes at an important, and very unprecedented time, where a number of individuals are dealing with various mental health issues as a result of the pandemic.
Higher than normal levels of stress, anxiety, and depression are being experienced as the virus continues to impact all aspects of our lives. People are out of work, spending the majority of their days indoors, (perhaps with people they do not particularly get along with), and also deal with the loss of their loved ones. Many are trying to cope without the opportunity to connect with friends and family like one normally would.
A survey conducted by The Daily shows that one in five Canadians experience symptoms of depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder as a direct result of the pandemic.
It’s because of statistics like this, that Kaur conducted outreach to look for South Asian therapists.
She is a fellow South Asian that is passionate about transforming our culture to become more inclusive, understanding, and welcoming.
“Southasiantherapists.org is now key in helping mental health providers serve the mental health needs of the South Asian diaspora.”
Manisha is a writer and reporter with previous radio and television experience, who is passionate about connecting audiences to the stories and voices that matter to them most. Check her out on Instagram: @exclusivelymanisha