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Community Member Spotlight

This week we sat down with one of the South Asian therapists at "Women's Health in Women's
Hands" (WHIWH). WHIWH is a non-profit agency offering a wide range of health and mental
health services. Read on to see our interesting discussion about mental health and South
Asians.

Anu started her career as an Art Therapist 23 years ago. She has a background in psychology
and has a passion for the arts. She says she "fell into" this profession by accident. She
accidentally discovered art therapy and decided to give it a shot and found out she loved it. Since
then, she has worked with lots of different populations but she really likes working with South
Asians because she is South Asian.

When asked why she is drawn to mental health, Anu said


"mental health is something that affects us all, and everyone could use support at some time in
their life".

As a child, Anu recalls the feeling of being different due to the color of her skin and her cultural
background just like thousands of other immigrants today. Anu went to a school that was pre-
dominantly white and she felt as if she could not fully relate to her classmates. It is a feeling
many of us can relate too. How do you explain to your White classmates, what is Diwali or why
cows are considered sacred in India?

This theme of identity and of "not belonging" is something a lot of South Asians still struggle
with today. Anu said she sees a lot of young women struggling with issues surrounding their
identity and of reconciling their personal beliefs with the cultural expectations. When the two
parts of your identity are always in conflict, how do you know who you are and where you
belong?
Growing up, Anu like most South Asians had never heard the words "mental health" or "mental
illness".
"It's something that does not happen to us, was the mentality at the time" Anu
said.

However, things are changing, there is certainly more discussion and dialogue about mental
health today than it was before. Through WHIWM, Anu hopes to increase awareness and
provide support to individuals during their time of need.

When asked about what her South Asian clients thought about art therapy, Anu said some were,
reluctant at first but in the end they were all pleasantly surprised by it and could see that it
works. But Anu says, there is still stigma associated with therapy but she is hopeful, the dialogue
is slowly changing and people are starting to accept that therapy might is beneficial for
everyone.

Anu agrees there is a need for more culturally diverse services and said it would reduce the
discomfort some clients face when accessing treatment. Anu believes, the older generation of
South Asians want someone who will understand the cultural values and their language,
while the younger generation of South Asians want someone who will understand the cultural
values. Someone who understands what it means to be South Asian and living in a South Asian
household.

I think we can all agree, we want someone who will understand our struggles and our culture.
Our culture is a part of who we are, it is our identity and we want people who will see that. As
Anu said, she likes working with South Asians because she is South Asian. We have different
experiences, different names but underneath it all we are the same people, celebrating the same
holidays and eating the same food. We are one big family, which is perhaps why we seek each
other out. We find comfort in our sameness and in each other.

We also had the oppportunity to speak with Jothi, the Director of Population Health and
Community Engagement at WHIMH and a fellow South Asian! Jothi told us that many people
come from far away to access their services. Jothi describes WHIMH as a "safe space" and a
"home away from home". Jothi noted that many clients would hang out at the Centre for the
whole day, before and after the appointments and felt a sense of belonging at WHIWH .

WHIMH is a Community Health Centre provides primary healthcare to racialized women from
the African, Black, Caribbean, Latin American and South Asian communities in Toronto and
surrounding municipalities. It is also a safe space for community members. As Jothi said
"WHIMS is for racialized women by racialized women". And we are 100% in support
of it, after all #WeNeedDiverseService like WHIWH.

For more information on WHIWH's services please check out their


website: http://www.whiwh.com/