As former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi said, “Life is a continuous process of adjustment. “When my father suddenly passed away nearly twenty years ago, I never thought my privileged happy go lucky life would crash. Gradually, within two years, my mother’s mental state started to decline with clouded decision making, irritability, and her million-dollar-watt smile faded and eventually became non-existent. Hindu Priests manipulated the fact we are Brahmins, and created a paranoia in her delicate mind because they reassured her we did not perform my father’s rituals properly. Their solution was to instill fear at an emotional and financial price. My mom, my best friend, my sister suddenly felt like my enemy because we could not see eye to eye on anything, creating major meltdowns.
It was impossible for me to comprehend what was happening. Was she severely depressed, brainwashed or just losing the plot. It was very challenging for me to confide in people because I was ashamed to air our “dirty laundry” in public or even admit my mom possibly had a mental illness. I wanted to cry for help, but people would say my mom is naïve and delicate like a flower. Fast forward nearly two decades, at the age of 69, my mom has been officially diagnosed with dementia, a disease of the mind. Earlier this year, when I interacted with some Aunties and they inquired about my mom, and I told them about her diagnosis they said… she did it to herself.
The fact is she did not do it to herself, nor does she deserve to go through this journey alone. Dementia particularly vascular dementia does require a medical diagnosis and sadly cannot be cured. For those who are not aware dementia symptoms include: cognitive decline, disorientation, mental confusion, irritability, personality changes, wandering off, hallucinations, etc. There are days when her personality is non-existent, yet there are days when she behaves like a child at Disney World. Believe it or not, there are even days when she can’t even register my brother’s name and calls him by another name, or does not realize that she has three beautiful grandkids. The reality is, we cannot even talk about our papa because she thinks he is not dead, but rather ran off to be with another woman. No, she is not crazy, she has an illness that is slowly eating her brain away.
Just recently, I asked her if she would like to go to Patel Brothers to shop for groceries. The child in her immediately lit up and agreed to join my friend and I. Then suddenly in the parking lot, she became hesitant and withdrawn. She told me to buy the groceries and she will sit in the car because she does not want anyone to see her using a walker. She was terrified someone we know would recognize her, ridicule her for her appearance and dependence using a walker. I reassured her, and told her who cares what the world will say, I am your daughter and no one will say anything to you. She smiled got out of the car and walked the entire store aisle by aisle by herself with her walker.
Our Indian culture is beautiful, and I am proud to be Indian, yet I believe our culture is intolerant especially in regards to mental health issues. As a first generation Indian-American who works full-time, and is a caretaker for my mother, I want to be the guiding light for those reluctant voices who want to seek help, but afraid to. Yes, my life is in a continuous process of adjustment but when I go to bed I can confidently say I am trying my best and I do not care what the world has to say about my mother’s illness.
The author, Usha Tewari, is a first generation Indian-American who works and lives in Orlando, Florida.
Subrina Singh is a passionate young writer and recently published her love story entitled, “Soniye” in the anthology of Sikh Love Stories, Her Name is Kaur. After completing her degree in Asian and Asian American Studies at Stony Brook University, she is now pursuing her Master’s Degree at Columbia University in South Asian Studies. More recently, she has become committed to using her experience with mental illness to help better the mental-health awareness within the South Asian community. She currently writes for BrownGirlMagazine.com & ZeeTV’s India.com.
ASHA International salutes Subrina’s courage in sharing her story!
GAYATHRI: Vijay, what inspired you to switch careers from the corporate world to mental health?
VIJAY: I had already spent 15 years in the corporate world. I had reached middle management level in a Fortune 500 company. My specialty was in strategic planning. While I found that to be challenging and interesting, I was looking for a change that would allow me to work at a one on one level helping individuals. At the same time my wife was going through her Masters in social work. Our discussions about the human experience resonated with me enough to motivate me to make the change.
GAYATHRI: What forms of therapy do you provide and what are their unique benefits?
VIJAY: My training has been in psychodynamic psychotherapy, Gestalt therapy, solution focused therapy, rational emotive behavior therapy, traditional cognitive behavioral therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy. The last three approaches fall under the overall umbrella of cognitive behavioral therapy. In addition, I have been trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction which is meditation based.
I have come to focus my practice in cognitive behavioral therapy. It is the gold standard and frontline treatment for most psychological conditions. I typically explain the three cognitive behavioral therapy approaches that I use to the patient and in most cases help the patient to decide which one resonates for her/him. Traditional cognitive behavioral therapy tends appeal to those who lean towards pragmatism, logic and problem solving. Acceptance and commitment therapy, which has a strong mindfulness-based component, tends to appeal to those who are more interested in going beyond the immediate symptoms and working on bringing meaning and purpose to their lives.
GAYATHRI: How are you uniquely qualified to provide care for the South-Asian community served by SAATHI?
VIJAY: My hope is that I can bring the expertise and training that I have gained from over four decades in business and psychology to the South-Asian community. I believe it is important for our community to know that it is possible to access current practices in psychology without sacrificing the culture and traditions that we care so much about.
Having been born and raised in India with MBAs from IIM Ahmedabad and INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France and my doctorate in psychology from the United States, I feel that I am well-positioned to straddle both cultures in an effective and compassionate manner. I believe a huge ingredient in bringing hope amidst suffering is knowing that the resources needed to recover and thrive are available. I hope those in need will be able to use the resources that SAATHI is compiling to know that they are not alone, and to encourage them to get help. There is no need to suffer anymore.
Vijay Shankar is a licensed psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety, mood disorders, and depression. He is co-founder of the LifeQual Center for Health & Healing. To learn more about Vijay and LifeQual Center, please visit http://www.lifequalcenter.com/vijay-shankar
Mental health is integral to our overall well-being, and the well-being of our families and communities. But, coping with stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions can be difficult and isolating. And, the cultural stigma and shame surrounding mental illness in the South-Asian community can prevent people from seeking help.
SAATHI, a South-Asian Mental Health Outreach Program of ASHA International aims to:
- Promote awareness about mental health and emotional well-being
- Improve access to care, &
- Connect people to community supports and wellness resources
The program supports people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan living in the Portland metropolitan area.
If you or your loved one is struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, you are not alone. We can help. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org A member of our team will reach out to you within 48 hours.
You are not alone. There is hope. We can help.
To meet the SAATHI team members, please click here…
Hard as I try not, I still tend to identify wellness with productivity. Was I able to do the tasks I set out to do today? Was I able to write? Was I useful in some small way to someone today? As long as I have the sense that I owe life something good that comes out of my hands, no matter how small, I hold myself out to be well regardless of how I may feel on that particular day. The hard thing is that some days it is important to be happy with small results.
But I am trying not to equate “wellness” with doing. I would rather know that I am well if I can feel inside of me a sense of gratitude for all that is given to me, for shelter and food and family, for leisure and for the beauty of the day. This kind of wellness is more of a deep faith that life is worth living. What I am discovering is that this kind of faith is both a gift and something you have to seek with your whole being. It is a seed that grows with our attention. So the most important thing I do to be well is that – I attend to this faith and seek to make it stronger. Each morning when I wake up I read from a holy text of one of the world’s religions and I write in a journal any thoughts or feelings evoked by that reading. That is how I water the seed of faith in me and that is what keeps me well.
To hear Francisco’s message of HOPE in English, please watch the video below:
To hear Francisco’s message of HOPE in Spanish, please watch the video below:
For nearly a decade of my life, I struggled to free myself from the death-hold of depression. For years, I worried, “will I ever get better?” “will I ever be well again?” It wasn’t until I met other people living and thriving despite their struggles with depression that I began to believe that I too can get better and live well.
Over the last couple of decades, I have had the privilege of meeting incredible people around the world, men women and children living with mental health conditions, who have taught me that living well with a mental health condition is possible. At ASHA International, we are delighted to launch LIVING WELL – a series of blog posts highlighting these people and the multitude of pathways they pursue to live well.
Please read the blog posts, hear their messages of hope, and share it with your friends, family and social networks.
Wishing you wellness,
Founder & President, ASHA Interantional
“Mental illness recognizes no borders, yet few books have explored the difficulties of individuals dealing with cultural differences and none has done it better than SHADOWS IN THE SUN. Beautifully written, Gayathri Ramprasad chronicles the devastating impact that depression reeks on an entire family and then brings us into the light with her inspiring story of recovery. This book is a true gift to all those struggling with a mental disorder and those of us who love them. In writing it, Gayathri Ramprasad establishes herself as an international voice of hope.”
– Pete Earley, author of CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness
The book is available at most major bookstores and Amazon.