Tell us about MannMukti and what prompted you to start the organisation?
In the fall of 2015, I lost my childhood best friend to mental illness. I felt that what he went through could’ve been avoided or at least improved if there was something to encourage South Asians to open up about mental health. After months of wondering what I could’ve done better for my friend, I decided to create MannMukti so others would not feel as alone as he did.
MannMukti translates to “mental liberation” in Hindi. Our stated mission is to encourage a healthy and open dialogue on mental health issues in an effort to remove the stigma, improve awareness and promote self-care in the South Asian community. At a simpler yet deeper level, it’s an organization that helps us to be kinder to each other, that helps us share and listen to all kinds of stories and not just the dominant ones. It’s a way for our community to take an extra step towards each other (Abhi Ravinutala, CEO & Founder).
MannMukti has created a safe space for South Asians to share testimonials and stories related to mental health. How important is it that people share their stories and in what ways has this helped with your work on wellbeing and mental health?
It’s important to share stories because it shows that these stories are in fact shared experiences so people can feel less alone, especially since their immediate surroundings may not be as supportive. Building community is essential to our work with wellness and mental health (Geetsika Pathak, Marketing Project Manager).
Sharing stories is a prime example of our mission to “speak up” about mental health. It helps decrease the stigma surrounding mental health conditions, and can be a source of comfort to others who may feel similar symptoms but feel isolated because of how the South Asian community views mental health. Our goal at MannMukti is to illustrate that mental health is important and can affect anyone. We hope to help others in need by showing people that South Asians are not exempt from mental health conditions (Nasra Thakur, Marketing Growth Manager).
The mentalhealth.org states that people from BME backgrounds are ‘more likely to experience a poor outcome from treatment’ since mainstream mental health services often fail to understand or provide services that meet the particular cultural requirements of non-white British communities. This means that mental health problems go unreported and therefore untreated because of the reluctance that ethnic minorities experience when approaching mainstream mental health organisations. Can you shed some light on this issue and the impact this has on South Asians?
The barriers to South Asians not receiving adequate mental health treatment is related to both the reluctance to seek treatment due to cultural expectations as well as the lack of culturally-informed mental health services available.
Many Asian communities will not seek mental health treatment because of shame, stigma and concern of the family reputation. South Asian patients with mental illnesses are often concerned with being called “crazy” or “insane.” One study found that South Asian college (University) students showed poorer attitudes and greater reluctance to using mental health counselling services compared to Caucasian college students . Other concerns were privacy – will my mental health professional uphold confidentiality, provide culturally relevant treatment, and demonstrate sensitivity towards my situation?. In another study on postpartum depression Khan argues that migrant South Asian women in Canada seeking mental healthcare will face various barriers: lack of knowledge or fluency in English, social isolation or lack of familial support since immigrating, socio-economical burdens, strict patriarchal households and racial discrimination were all factors of concern. As a result, cultural values and religious rituals are the primary coping strategy in dealing with psychological distress .
In order to make an informed mental health diagnosis, cultures must be understood at multiple levels: individual, family, organizational and community or society . One focus group study found that mental health professionals’ perceptions and understandings about South Asian women are likely derived from stereotypical assumptions of repressive Asian cultures. In essence, they would frequently assume that the possible source of depression for example, was located in Asian cultures whilst the treatment of depression was through adopting a more Western lifestyle . This could indicate a lack of education regarding the South Asian culture and may contribute to why South Asians do not feel comfortable talking about mental health.
In summary, South Asians have reluctance in seeking mental health services due to cultural stigma and lack of culturally relevant appropriate mental health services (Paresh Jaini VP of Research and Content).
As an organisation committed to raising awareness of mental health issues among South Asians, what steps would you suggest be taken when encouraging help and treatment uptake in the community?
I encourage people to think of their brain as they would think of their arm or leg being broken. We can’t just think the illness or pain away for those body parts. We gladly take physical therapy or medication for those issues, so why don’t we treat SUCH an important organ in our body in the same way? Humans are under the misconception that we can control our brain and thoughts when in reality many mental illnesses can be attributed to a chemical imbalance or some other physiological issues. (Ravleen Kaur (VP of Marketing & PR).
Dr Dinesh Bhugra, Emeritus Professor of Mental Health and Cultural Diversity at King’s College London, stated in a BBC article (linked here) that no word for depression exists in Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi. With there being no specific terminology to communicate mental distress in these languages how do South Asians create a dialogue that will help overcome language barriers when communicating emotional and psychological distress?
Using verbiage and adjectives that describe how depression or anxiety or whatever illness makes you feel is one way to start. It also helps to Google if mental distress has been described in religious books (Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Guru Granth Sahib) and on many forums as a Sikh I’ve found descriptions of what depression is – not a word/synonym in Punjabi for it. There is also a great thread on our community group by Kulpreet Singh on everyday words we use to describe mental illnesses/distress with our non-English speaking family:
Pareshaani– a problem
Ravleen Kaur (VP of Marketing & PR)
Included below is one testimony of many that illustrates how organisations like MannMukti are providing an invaluable service to support people in the community.
Recently, we received a message on our social media from a South Asian who engages with MannMukti’s online content. Their words prove how necessary MannMukti is, and how we’re taking the right steps towards alleviating the crippling stigma of mental health.
“I thought I stood alone, in the sense that I can’t really talk to my South Asian friends about mental health, because of the stigma attached to it. This is an amazing organization trying to end that stigma. It makes me sick to my stomach that death is favoured over talking about mental health, because it is just not addressed. Bless you guys for doing what you do.”
To learn more about what MannMukti offer – please visit their website
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- A Mental Illness Stigma as a Mediator of Differences in Caucasian and South Asian College Students’ Attitudes Toward Psychological Counseling
- Factors that influence Asian communities™ access to mental health care
- Postpartum Depression and Access to Mental Healthcare among Migrant South Asian Women in Canada: A Literature Review
- One Size Does Not Fit All: Taking Diversity, Culture and Context Seriously
- Cultural stereotypes of women from South Asian communities: mental health care professionals™ explanations for patterns of suicide and depression
- Understanding clinician perception of common presentations in South Asians seeking mental health treatment and determining barriers and facilitators to treatment