A Room With A Point of View
It takes a collaborative to start a conversation
By RANA KHAN
PICTURED: Fardous Hosseiny, Dr Rani Srivastava, Dr Jaswant Kaur, Dr Sean Kidd, Gursharan Kaur and Lubna Khalid.
The Collaborative for South Asian Mental Health held the first South Asian Mental Health Conference on November 28 in Toronto under the aegis of CAMH.
The theme of the conference was Supporting the Mental Health of South Asian Youth and Families: Navigating Inter-Generational Challenges Within the South Asian Community, and the agenda included panel discussions, workshops and a research poster competition. The event brought together health professionals, community activists and members of the South Asian diaspora on a common platform towards a dialogue that has long been overdue.
Rani Srivastava, of the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH), in her welcome address on behalf of the Collaborative spoke about the shame and stigma that has characterized much of the community’s attitude towards mental health issues, and of efforts of the Collaborative to combat this by initiating dialogues within the community to recognize the fact that “we can’t afford to keep silent” any further.
Next on the podium was Fardous Hosseiny, national director (Research and Public Policy) of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), who in his keynote speech underlined the many barriers faced by newcomers and immigrants, many of whom belong to the South Asian community. He also emphasized the need to change the mindset within communities and put the focus on the discrimination faced by those affected by mental health issues, the last effectively put across through a short video.
There were two panel discussions, Help Seeking Across the Generations (moderated by Dr Smita Vir Tyagi) and Research to Action (moderated by Dr Farah Islam). Both had individual researchers as well as organizational representatives presenting their findings to a responsive audience. There were also workshops on various topics like International Students and Mental Health, Exploring Mental Health in South Asian Women, Complex Mental Health Issues and Service Access and Exploring Mental Health in South Asian Youth, all very productive sessions with stories of lived experiences shared by participants.
The Bassi family presented the Paviter Singh Bassi Award to Pardeep Kaur Benipani and her co-researchers for their presentation on South Asian Perspectives on Mental Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review. The Bassi family instituted the award to honour their brother who was killed in 2019. The fund has been set up to continue the community work Paviter was passionate about – referred to as Seva in Sikhism. Mental health is a focus of their fund and community work.
There was another keynote address by Naeem Farooqui, and later the audience convened for the penultimate session of the day.
Community Learning and Reflection saw passionate feedback from the audience.
Sivam Velautham spoke movingly about the help needed by family members who are impacted by the suffering of a loved one’s trauma.
Henna Khwaja, recently arrived from Edmonton and working at the University of Toronto (Mississauga), stressed the need for starting a database to enable knowledge sharing amongst the community, and many commented on the real need of more South Asian social workers/counsellors, the general lack of cultural competency in long-term care facilities, lack of representation in syllabi/curricula, and the inter-generational challenges rife within the community.
In her closing remarks, Gursharan Kaur of the Collaborative focused on the absolute importance of coalition-building with other communities while also developing best practices by collectively compiling some guidelines on inclusivity and cultural competency in caregiving, citing the example of the National Health Service in the UK. She also promised that the Collaborative would hold a symposium next year to continue its efforts towards its key objective of further promoting research and collaboration in mental health in Canada.
Numerous organizations were represented at the event including the Punjabi Community Health Services; SOCH; ReConnect; C; Naseeha; Malton Neighbourhood Services; Jafri Support Services; Working for Change; Abuse Never Becomes Us (ANBU); and Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA). There were also individuals like Bhupinder Singh Bains, an on-campus counsellor with the University of Guelph-Humber who was attending the Conference to look at resources on how best to support international students.
Fardous Hosseiny put it best when he said that the issue of mental health is foremost as the crisis of our times, and that “we need to be here with each other, and the Conference is a small step forward in this direction”.