Tag Archives: depression

Hate Crimes & The Pandemic Create Mental Health Distress Among Asian Americans

Many Asian Americans say – we can wear a mask to protect against Covid but how can you protect yourself against racism? 

The physical assaults are the stories that show up on the news.  But the mental impacts of racism have been deadly for Asian Americans. They have experienced the highest mental health distress from both the pandemic and rise of hate crimes during pandemic while they are the least likely to seek help for the same.

“There are a lot of trauma reactions, similar to PTSD symptoms. However what makes racial trauma very unique is where PTSD is post traumatic stress disorder, a lot of racial trauma is not post.  There is no ending to it right now.  It is past, present and ongoing.  So, it makes it very unique and tricky trauma symptoms to treat sometimes.” says Linda Yoon, a therapist and the founder of Yellow Chair Collective.  

For many older generation South East Asians including Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian refugee immigrant population, the recent violent crimes have triggered their PTSD symptoms that remind them of war, genocide, displacement they experienced in their home countries.  

Yoon says that there are a lot of physical symptoms in this trauma, including sleeplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, confusion, loneliness, and a lot of anxiety and depression.  And a lot of anger towards the injustice that they are experiencing. 

A lack of understanding of the available mental health services as well as the cultural stigma associated with it, makes it even harder to reach this community.  

The concept of mental health comes from psychology, which comes from the western culture and study, says Yoon and because psychology separates mind from the physical body, it feels alien to the eastern society.  “In traditional eastern medicine and wellness, they talk about yin and yang – balance which also includes balance of your body and mind.  And there is no separation between body and mind.” 

So a lot of times Asian Americans will complain about their mental health symptoms in their physical somatic sense.  “We talk about pain in our body, we talk about anger that lives inside our body, we talk about the shoulder pain that was caused by family stress, we talk about stomach issues that have been impacted by stress and anxiety.” 

To address mental health issues and reduce the stigma, more integrative holistic approaches to mental health will make more sense to Asian populations in a culturally sensitive and linguistically competent manner. 

But the good news is that they do not want to “shoulder the fear burden anymore” reports Anh Do at the LA Times.  At the start, they “bent to cultural tradition” and kept quiet.  They were taught to keep their troubles to themselves.  And they wanted to avoid attention to their families.  But then as assaults increased, they started reporting and creating safety plans for their loved ones. 

 “They gave their children mace.”  “He makes sure his phone battery is always charged ready to be used in case something happens” and he needs to record it. “Never go alone, even for the smallest errand.” “Hyper vigilance, and avoidance of places”. These are some of the strategies ordinary Asian Americans are employing to stay safe, here in America, according to Do.

The potential for bullying, stereotyping and violence is so high that Asian American parents are afraid to send their kids back to school and generally go back in public.  

 

Who are Asian Americans Exactly?

In 1968, UC Berkeley student activists Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka coined the term “Asian American” to unite the different communities of Asian descent and strategically create more political power in numbers.  

Then, in the 1980s and ’90s this classification was broadened even further via the addition of Pacific Islander and creating the term Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI.  While AAPI was meant to be inclusive, in reality it has often had the opposite effect. 

According to Pew Research, this demographic marker includes about 19 million people, up 81 percent since 2000. 59 percent of all Asian Americans are immigrants, including 1.4 million of whom are undocumented. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in America, currently 5.6 percent of the county’s population but projected to be as much as 14 percent by 2065.

The income gaps among different Asian American ethnic groups are the widest of any racial group, and they are still growing. While Indian Americans have the highest median income of $100,000, for example, Burmese Americans have the lowest, at $36,000. By bundling over 50 ethnic groups that speak over a 100 languages under one broad AAPI banner, the aggregated data does a disservice to the individual communities.

But what makes us uniquely Asian says Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan, Professor of Public Policy, UC Riverside, to Vox, “is our “history of exclusion” whether this is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, or the 1917 Immigration Act that barred Indians or by 1924, the Japanese as well. 

In all these three cases, the immigrants came to the US as laborers but were framed as the source of economic problems, and in some cases public health ones, too. 

The yellow peril is a racist metaphor for Asian Americans who are seen as outside threats that are invading the west with their diseases as explained by Professor Russell Jeung, Chair & Professor, Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University, at a USC Center for Health Journalism webinar titled “What Anti-Asian Hate Means for Mental Health, Safety and Justice.”

The “model minority” trope that suggests that all Asian Americans are well off, hardworking and successful and pit them against other minorities “masks the inequalities that Asian Americans face.  The yellow peril is much more operative” suggests Professor Jeung, one of the founders of STOPAAPIHATE.org

“Sometimes when we are on the inside, we are model minorities, we are white adjacent, we are crazy rich Asians. But in times of war, such as Japanese incarceration, or what happened to South Asian muslims and Arab Americans with islamophobia –  in times of economic downturn and in times of pandemic,  Asian Americans are framed as perpetual foreigners, or outsiders who don’t belong” says Professor Jeung.

Time and again, when diseases come from Asia, says Professor Jeung, “Asian Americans are perceived as the source of the diseases, policies seek to exclude them, and Asian Americans are met with interpersonal violence.” 

 

AAPI Hate Crime on the Rise

#stopAAPIhate website tracker was created to collect individual reports, to document the issue, to figure out what’s happening, to track trends, and to provide policy interventions.  The hate and anger directed against Asians was appalling, up to 100 incidents a day and that surge has continued. 

Asian Americans report everything from being barred from ride shares, to being coughed and spat on, their businesses being shunned, their elderly being shoved and kicked, their children being bullied in person and online, racial epithets and slurs and the ever common curse –  “go back to China”. 

Almost unanimously, respondents named racism as their biggest stressor and greatest fear during the pandemic. Asian Americans are more concerned about other American’s hate than they are of a pandemic that has killed over half a million Americans.  That’s how widespread and traumatizing the racism is.  

Here in the Bay Area, there were higher incidents of hate crime against Asians in the beginning of the pandemic. This is likely because Northern California, more dependent on public transportation, the likelihood of different communities and different cultures interacting with one another is greater versus Southern California, which is very steeped in the car culture. 

 

Help is At Hand

In Oakland, a volunteer service has been activated where a volunteer comes within 10-15 minutes of a call to accompany you to the bus stop, help you to a grocery store or back to your home. 

Professor Jeung is angry and sad and distressed about the state of America although he is heartened that the Asian American community is standing up and “seeing our community really mobilize and working in unity with other allies.”

But he questions what healing looks like?  And “as we experience racism, we might become racists – how do I stop this within my own self and how do I stop this for my students? What prescriptions do we have for our society so that we can stop that cycle of violence and racism?”

These are questions that do not have easy answers for us in the South Asian community either.  Many of us faced stigmatization and violence in the aftermath of 9-11 but how do we become better allies and show support to our discriminated Asian brethren now? 

A simple check up on your Asian American friends and neighbors, says Yoon, will go a long way.  Her patients report feeling invisible and alone.  Other strategies include intervening if you can when you see an incident, report what is happening and donate when you can.

Words matter, says Professor Jeung as the world watched Trump’s hate speech about the “China Virus” going viral, and normalizing hate towards the Asian American community.  “We need official statements to normalize love and respect.  It is sort of obvious but it is really needed.” 

So, whatever organization you belong to or work at, pressure them to put out official statements about supporting the AAPI community because it helps them be seen and heard and acknowledge their pain and suffering.  

President Biden’s new actions to respond to the increase in acts of anti-Asian violence have been celebrated in the community as a movement in the right direction. But in order to address the root case will require “ more education, more expanded civil rights protections and more restorative justice models”, says Professor Jeung.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

Mind Matters.

Mind Matters: Mental Health in South Asian Americans

A recent article in India West reported that a higher percentage of South Asian Americans, especially between the ages of 15 and 24, had been found to exhibit depressive symptoms and a higher rate of suicide among young South Asian American women compared to the general US population. Likewise, studies have spoken of how South Asian immigrants have high rates of mental health disorders that go unaddressed.

Asian American Connect

Dr. Priyanka Thukral Mahajan
Dr. Priyanka Thukral Mahajan

Other studies have shown that immigrants from South Asia to the USA and their children face numerous mental health challenges.

“This could be on account of acculturation, that is cultural or psychological changes that occur as a result of prolonged first-hand contact between two different belief systems or cultures. Stress predominantly originates from their attempts to incorporate ‘American’ traits in their own culture. This eventually shows up as a cultural conflict. Multiple other factors contribute to this stress, including alienation and separation from their families and loved ones, language barriers preventing true socialization, uncertainty around their immigration status, financial stressors, as well as in certain cases, overt or perceived discrimination, and more generally, barriers to cultural integration,” says Dr. Priyanka Thukral Mahajan, Consultant Psychiatrist, Masina Hospital.

Conflict Concerns

Eventually, this cultural conflict leads to uncertainty around belonging. This is particularly more visible in the workplace. The effects of prolonged acculturation and discrimination result in a wide spectrum of psychological disorders over time. These include depression (primarily due to isolation, financial stress), somatization (i.e., self-interpretation of mental health symptoms as physical symptoms and not seeking help), anxiety (again on account of alienation), substance abuse disorders, especially alcohol.

“Such disorders have a dark underbelly, as they are one of the key reasons for increasing rates of suicides among South Asian immigrants in America. The tragedy is that all the above is neither widely known nor acknowledged. The issue is accentuated further by the challenges associated with seeking help from mental health professionals in the form of psychological counseling. If one gets into the weeds of the issue, one realizes that such immigrants have limited means of confiding their feelings with mental health professionals in the USA, given cultural barriers and differences. It is difficult for professional mental health professionals to understand their feelings and challenges, correlate with their culture and truly empathize with them,” adds Mahajan.

Ethnicity Woes

Dr. Sahiba Sethi
Dr. Sahiba Sethi

South Asian countries have been right in the center of the pandemic conversation throughout. Though the impact for South Asian Americans is even more convoluted. At the height of the pandemic, last year xenophobia gripped multiple countries and this community bore much of the backlash for no fault of their own. The lingering effects continue in a lot of pockets. The impact that it would have had on their mental health would be enormous. 

“Personal stories shared by individuals across the world via my online counseling sessions gave me an insight into the South Asian American community and their fears. The last 14 months, we have seen an increased prevalence of nonpsychotic depression, pre-anxiety, somatic concerns, alcohol-related disorders, and insomnia in general. Parents worried about their children’s safety have given rise to psychological symptoms correlated more with physical complaints of fatigue and pain in older adults. This was directly related to social media use, misinformation, xenophobia, and social distancing. The resulting isolation made a lot of people see the bad rather than the good in a community. Frontline workers reported guilt, stigma, anxiety, and poor sleep quality, which were related to the lack of availability of adequate personal protective equipment, increased workload, and discrimination,” says Sahiba Sethi, Counseling Psychologist, Ummeed Healing.

Apps as a Tool

Dr. Nabhit Kapur
Dr. Nabhit Kapur

Apps are just a click away, so are easy to access. 

“And some may already be socially isolated and experiencing loneliness which can worsen mental health. COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke,” says Nabhit Kapur, Founder President of PeacfulMind Foundation.

Apps help people connect in their native languages to a therapist who understands their culture and can empathize with their situation. Some of these apps are powered in the background by Artificial Intelligence.

“These apps help such immigrant patients deal with their mental health issues in a much better way. Their biggest advantage is the patient’s perceived lack of being judged by a third person, resulting in lower stigma towards using them as against meeting a mental health professional in person. This stigma is a huge barrier especially in the South Asian community given the cultural background. A key issue with such apps, however, is in certain instances the patients may not feel truly connected with the device, which can result in a decline in their usage over time. A recently launched app for this purpose is SAMHIN (South Asian Mental Health Initiative and Network). Another one that has been in existence for a longer duration is SASMHA (South Asian Sexual and Mental Alliance). These apps can help connect people who need psychological counseling, with various platforms, to seek support and find mental peace,” says Mahajan.

COVID Angle

Dr. Prakriti
Dr. Prakriti Poddar

Statistics reveal that only 23% of non-Americans in the USA seek mental health, against the 40% of Americans born in the USA. Patients from such communities find it arduous to find a mental health professional from their own community, who can understand their situation and truly support them. Covid-19 pandemic has further worsened the above dynamic. As is very well known, the sheer incidence of mental health issues has gone up significantly through this pandemic due to heightened financial insecurity, lack of social contact. For the immigrants, seeking medical help in these times has become even more challenging.

Prakriti Poddar, Global Head for Mental Health at Round Glass, Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation says, “a 2018 study found out that stress related to acculturation, trauma, and discrimination has been linked with depression, anxiety and substance abuse among South Asian Americans. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected South Asian American communities by increasing stress and anxiety levels in terms of health concerns and issues such as employment and housing.  Due to the uptick in violence and hate against the South Asian American community, racism has also severely impacted the mental health of the community.”

Breaking Taboos

Dr. Aparna Methil
Dr. Aparna Methil

In India, it is an uphill task to change perceptions related to mental health predominantly due to the stigma associated with it. The challenge lies in creating the right kind of awareness about mental health problems and encouraging people to seek the right kind of help from mental health professionals.

“Mental health crisis can be attributed to the outbreak of Covid-19 and resultant loneliness, isolation, fear of loss of life, financial insecurity, job cuts, salary cuts, and overall economic uncertainty. The common mental health issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, insomnia, denial, anger, and fear reported among Indians. Stress, anxiety, and depression have been closely related with the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Aparna Methil, Vice-President, Operations, Mpower. Mental health issues faced by South Asian immigrants in the USA are immense and one of the ways to tackle the challenge is to take the help of technology. After all wellness in a click matters the most.

Mental Health App List


Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.


 

Poornam: An Emotional Arc

For today’s art and creative writing summer workshop for elementary school kids, our lesson is titled ‘The Emotional Arc Of Storytelling’. Through the theme of roller coasters, my colleague, Pavani, and I plan to bring to light how good storytelling needs to have ups and downs, twists and turns, and loop-de-loops in the plot for a more complete experience. As I begin to chart my lesson plan, the innocent faces of some of the younger students in our class come to mind. Would they be able to grapple the concept of infusing emotion into their narration? Maybe, ‘Emotion’ is too strong of a word for them. Would it be easier to use the words ‘Feelings’ instead? 

Then doubt creeps into my ever curious mind. Are emotions and feelings synonymous?

As is the norm these days I google the difference between emotions and feelings and I find my answer in a study from Wake Forest University. 

Feelings arise in the conscious mind while emotions manifest in the subconscious mind. They are not interchangeable terms. Emotions are universal bodily sensations while feelings are personal interpretations of emotions. Love, hunger, pain are feelings while anger, happiness, and disgust are emotions. The article is complex and even before I finish reading the article, my mind sucks me into an ever turbulent black hole of questions. What then is depression? 

“Is it an emotion or is it a feeling – a personal interpretation of sadness, of unworthiness?

Depression is rampant now and the current state of our seemingly apocalyptic world with its chaos and uncertainty has only made sure it stays entrenched in our society. Naturally, another question pops up. When will all this end? Will life ever return to normal again?

A ping on my phone brings me out of the everlasting loop of thought.

“We closed on the house! Finally!!!” texts my friend. 

“Congratulations!” I reply back, genuinely happy for her. She has worked hard to make this happen, managing two jobs and a family. She’s moving to a house bigger than the current one. Selfishly, my happiness stems not just from friendship but also from relief. People buying bigger homes, moving up the socio-economic ladder gives a semblance of returning normalcy to the present situation. Isn’t that what we all strive towards? Bigger dreams encompass an abundance of health, wealth, and happiness.

Six months ago, when the world began to shut down, fear prevailed. I was grateful to have a roof over my head, two square meals a day, and people I loved safe. I listened to spiritual greats every day and meditated without fail. Nothing else mattered. I was content to be alive with what little I had. From that gratitude stemmed the realization that I do not need much to be happy, that sitting in stillness and being in touch with that deeper part of myself makes my life complete.

Yet, here I am now, with the fear of the virus slowly dissolving. I have returned to my pre-pandemic definitions of success and happiness – a bigger home, vacations in exotic locales, and a great looking body. The lessons learned in the pandemic have been transient. Why else would SSR’s suicide shock me? And why else would a friend’s increased purchasing power make me happy? After all, in the interim, I had learned that material wealth and fame does not guarantee fulfillment. Yet, just as quickly as I have learned, I seem to have also forgotten that untainted joy stems from within. 

“Om Poornamadah, Om Poornamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate,

Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamevavashishyate.”

(That (the source) is complete, this (creation) is complete as well. After completeness is taken away from completeness, only completeness remains. )

In essence, the divine source is within me and by my very nature, I AM COMPLETE. 

The phone rings.

“Hey, How’s the lesson plan coming along?” Pavani asks.

Ah – It’s time to get back to ‘The Emotional Arc of Storytelling’.

“Just starting, I’ll ping you once I’m done,” I say. 

As I go back to my lesson plan, Pavani’s words in the document bring a smile to my face – “Roller Coasters are a great metaphor for life. We go up, we go down, but we don’t have to crash. We can learn to enjoy the ride.”

In just a few moments I have, like a roller coaster, gone all around the twists and turns in my mind, from emotions and feelings to depression to joy and completion. I am yet unsure of whether depression is an emotion or a feeling or why it is so rampant and if life will ever return to the way it was before the pandemic. But, what I do know is – I do not need anyone or anything to complete me and knowing this is the anchor that will steady me during the turbulence. 


Vidya Murlidhar is an essayist and children’s book author from Charlotte, NC. Her work has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Mothers Always Write, Grown & Flown, India Currents, and other places.  

Finding the Silver Lining: Stories of Strength and Struggle

As the global COVID-19 crisis has continued well beyond initial predictions and precautions, the response of the community at large, especially across the Indian diaspora, has been startling. Some have embraced the changes, calling for society to adapt and accept the circumstances as “the new normal”; others have lamented the lockdown as a pestilence to be endured. For many in the Indian community on a global level, questions and concerns about when the global pandemic will end remain unanswered.

However, some have managed to find a platform to voice their stories during these difficult days, especially through a younger audience. This has shed light on the experiences of many who have previously have encountered limited responses from peers and the wider community.

We the Young, a positive, youth-driven Indian media platform, has responded to the COVID-19 crisis by assisting young people to find the silver lining during the uncertainty of these times. As an online portal, the virtual community has developed a safe space that welcomes the voices of youth to share their story and find inspiration from others’ shared experiences. Many Indian youth have been able to voice their personal outlook on life from a mental health perspective as a way to engage with young people across the internet.

As a way to facilitate this further, this initiative also collaborates with mental health experts, advocates, and those with lived experiences to engage and explore approaches to coping with various mental health issues through their weekly initiative, the Mental Health Dost.

Udita was one such youngster who found it difficult to keep her emotions in check early on, especially when it came to her relationship. Diagnosed with clinical depression and borderline personality disorder, she found it hard to handle the pressures life threw her way, and she wished to end it all. A random Google search led her to get connected to a helpline, where she found herself pouring out her emotions to the person on the other end of the line; who gave her both the assurance and hope that she was looking for. Now with professional intervention, Udita has found help and is coping with her mental health issues. “For me, now, Udita says, “it’s one day at a time”. 

Many young people just like Udita have began to share their stories as part of the Instagram live series, #DearZindagi; which, with the help of We the Young, has been turned into a mini-documentary series which has been promoted online and has received thousands of views and responses from young people with shared experiences who also are empowered and able to share their voice as a result.

As We the Young continues its campaign to engage others, including through their social media campaign, #InItTogether, as well as their weekly live sessions with artists and advocates who share their tips during isolation, and the blog online which is updated regularly – the story continues. The voice of youth has continued to empower others to do the same, and as the platform continues to impact others, many more youngsters are inspired to join this growing community.

Commenting on the need of the hour, Charit Jaggi, the founder of We The Young said, “We need to create more platforms and safe spaces for people to come and share their vulnerabilities and problems..so many of us are battling with loneliness, anxiety, and depression alone. No one deserves to suffer alone. There is an urgent need for us to come together as a generation, right now more than ever.”

For young people across the global Indian diaspora, strength in solidarity is the best way forward.


Joseph Kolapudi is a young writer, currently serving as Editor-in-Chief for ProvokeWoke, a youth-driven, online platform. He also contributes to several print and online publications. He has been recognized as a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum for his work locally and internationally. 

Take the Time, Check In

WHO reports suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds globally, with a total of 800,000 lives lost every year. This data was compiled pre-pandemic and the assumption is that this year the data is going to look worse. 

As an actor and storyteller, I wanted to capture mental health in a short story, focus on one of the potential solutions, and drive that point home. It was an active decision to remove focus from the underlying reasons for depression. As of late, we’ve learned that depression can happen without an obvious trigger, as in the case of Deepika Padukone.

As one would expect, initially it took time to find people who wanted to invest time in a project about mental health but I found my key collaborators – Christina Perez and Emmanuel Vega. Christina Perez directed, edited, and created the background score. Emmanuel worked the sound and lights, among other things. The shoot was done in one location and completed in 3 hours.

In these trying times, the relevance of the message has increased and the collective consciousness has been almost forced to develop empathy to understand it. However, the message was relevant even before and will remain relevant even after. The ending of the short was designed to be something that lived online given the ubiquity and the growing relevance of the Internet in the current world. 

As a volunteer project, my team and I have nothing to gain from this video other than spreading a beneficial message. Please take the time, just 96 seconds, to watch the short film below!

Since the release of the short, the response has been very positive. A young musician from Kerala was inspired by the short and composed a song using the visuals from the short film. A doctor messaged me and said how this movie had impacted him; he started making calls to his coworkers to check in on them as they are working 80 hours/week.

Almost everyone who watched the short has loved the art and has had a key takeaway from it, however, not many have watched it. While it may seem that 70k views are a lot, remember that 800,000 people die due to mental health every year. We are just getting started!

Uday Krishna is an actor, writer, and data professional. Uday has acted in a bunch of shorts, plays, commercials and has written/directed plays and shorts.

Sushant Singh Rajput Jolts Global Mental Health Dialogues

Trigger warning regarding mental health and suicide.

Sushant Singh Rajput, Disha Salian, Sudha Devi lost to mental health

Mental health has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Headlines relating to suicide have sent shock waves through the community. A successful tinsel star, Sushant Singh Rajput and his former manager, Disha Salian, succumbed to their mental health within one week of each other. And in a tragically poetic fashion, as Sushant Singh Rajput’s last rites were performed, his sister-in-law, Sudha Devi, passed away, who had allegedly stopped eating upon learning of his death. The rippling effect of mental health ran its course.

Popular for his acting in both TV and film, the 34-year-old actor, delivered a strong anti-suicide message in his last seen 2019 film ‘Chhichhore’. On June 14, 2020, the actor was found in his Mumbai home. He was reportedly suffering from depression. A week earlier, he had written a heartbroken Instagram story addressing the suicide of his 28-year-old former manager, Disha Salian.

Is it the lockdown and the resulting loneliness or is it the disease itself?

“It is both,” said Dr. Farida Sohrabji, Regents Professor and Interim Head, Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, Texas A&M College of Medicine, at a webinar organized by Ethnic Media Services, June 12, 2020. Both the molecular impacts of the virus and the pandemic-related isolation leads to depression,” she said.

The impact of social isolation can be quite devastating in many ways. Social isolation increases the risk of cardiovascular ailment, heightens the symptoms of autoimmune disease, and increases mental health issues. Not interacting with people increases the stress hormone cortisol and weakens the immune system. People who don’t have the virus but are being socially isolated slip into depression. The senior population, or those with comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, etc., are isolated for their own good. They are entrapped by voluntary confinement and fall prey to depression.

And then there are those that are infected by the virus.“The virus enters the body through the nose,” says Dr. Sohrabji, “The nose is somewhat exposed to the brain and the virus can end up in the brain in the olfactory system (how we smell things). This area is strongly implicated with depression.”

Additionally, the full-blown inflammation caused by the virus has an effect on the brain and mood of the patient. “The proteins that fight the virus slash and burn cells in the war against the virus and the resulting inflammation can lead to depression,” she said. “ The medical community’s first thought was that the virus is akin to a respiratory disease but it has been noticed to be more than that. A broad basket of mental issues has been caused by it.”

Social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus can lead to depression and anxiety, while those infected with COVID-19 can experience mental health issues, including depression. Being cognizant of the dangers caused by the lockdown can help us help each other stay sane and safe. 

What can help?

A study by Harvard Medical School has a unique solution. Foster a pet. Pets have a calming effect. Dogs’ calming effect on humans appears to help people handle stress, the study says. Research suggests that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. That means that their heart rate and blood pressure go up less and return to normal more quickly, dampening the effects of stress on the body.

The power of touch appears to be an important part of this “pet effect.” Several studies show that blood pressure goes down when a person pets a dog. Having a dog is good for your heart too, says the study. Besides, dog owners tend to get more exercise as well. As coronavirus spreads across the US, Americans have stepped up to foster and adopt animals, keeping them out of shelters.

Contextualizing

”We come up with our sort-of explanations, even if they are not particularly persuasive, and then file the event away,” says Malcolm Gladwell on suicide. “I keep coming back to how important context is in understanding behavior.” 

The incontrovertible fact is that Sushant Singh Rajput, Sudha Devi, and Disha Salian were casualties of mental anguish during the lockdown. Rest in peace to all the lives that have been lost due to mental health.

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author whose interest in history has led her to chronicle our life in times of COVID. How many more must we lose?

Keeping Young Adults Safe During The Pandemic

Last month, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered most of the state’s residents to stay home, I found myself under virtual house arrest with an uncomfortably large number of Gen Zers.

Somehow I had accumulated four of my children’s friends over the preceding months. I suppose some parents more hard-nosed than I would have sent them packing, but I didn’t have the heart — especially in the case of my daughter’s college roommate, who couldn’t get back to her family in Vietnam.

So, I had to convince six bored and frustrated 18- to 21-year-olds that, yes, they too could catch the coronavirus ― that they needed to stop meeting their friends, wipe down everything they brought into the house and wash their hands more frequently than they had ever imagined.

The first two weeks were nerve-wracking. I cringed every time I heard the front door open or close, and when any of the kids returned home, I grilled them remorselessly.

The day after a house meeting in which I laid down the law, I found my son, Oliver, 21, inside his cramped music studio in the back of the house with a kid I’d never seen before. And that night, I saw one of our extra-familial housemates in a car parked out front, sharing a mind-altering substance with a young man who used to visit in the pre-pandemic era.

If I’ve been neurotically vigilant, it’s because the stakes are high: I’ve got asthma and Oliver has rheumatoid arthritis, making us potentially more vulnerable to the ravages of the virus.

But even as I play the role of enforcer, I recognize that these kids are as anxious and worried as I am.

My daughter, Caroline, 18, is filled with sadness and despair, feelings she had largely overcome after going away to college last fall. She recently started doing telephone sessions with her old therapist. Oliver has begun therapy — remotely, for now ― after dismissing it as pointless for the past several years.

A study released this month by Mental Health America, an advocacy and direct service organization in Alexandria, Virginia, shows that people under age 25 are the most severely affected by a rise in anxiety and depression linked to social isolation and the fear of contracting COVID-19.

That is not surprising, even though the virus has proved far deadlier for seniors. Mental health problems were already rising sharply among teens and young adults before the pandemic. Now their futures are on hold, they can’t be with their friends, their college campuses are shuttered, their jobs are evaporating — and a scary virus makes some wonder if they even want those jobs.

Paul Gionfriddo, Mental Health America’s CEO, says parents should be attentive even to subtle changes in their kids’ behavior or routine. “Understand that the first symptoms are not usually external ones,” Gionfriddo says. “Maybe their sleep patterns change, or they’re eating less, or maybe they are distracted.”

If your teens or young adults are in distress, they can screen themselves for anxiety or depression by visiting www.mhascreening.org. They will get a customized result along with resources that include reading material, videos and referrals to treatment or online communities.

The Child Mind Institute (www.childmind.org or 212-308-3118) offers a range of resources, including counseling sessions by phone. If your young person needs emotional support, or just to vent to an empathetic peer, they can call a “warmline.” For a list of numbers by state, check www.warmline.org.

Caroline’s case is probably typical of college kids. She moved back home from San Francisco last month after her university urged students to leave the dorms. Her stuff is stranded up there, and we have no idea when we’ll be able to reclaim it. Meanwhile, she has been planning to share an off-campus apartment starting in August with four of her friends from the dorm. We can get attractive terms if we sign the lease by April 30 ― but what if school doesn’t reopen in the fall?

For Oliver, who’s been living with me all along, the big challenges are a lack of autonomy, a need for money and cabin fever. Those stressors got the best of him recently, and he started doing sorties for a food delivery service. Of course, it makes me crazy with worry every time he goes out, and when he returns home I’m in his face: “Did you wear a mask and gloves? Did you keep your distance? Wash your hands!”

But what can I do, short of chaining him to the water heater? And if going out — and getting some cash in his pocket ― makes him feel better, that can’t be all bad (unless he catches the virus).

If your kid dares to work outside the house, and you dare let him, several industries are hiring — particularly grocery stores, pharmacies and home delivery and food services. Child care for parents who have to work is also in demand, so your fearless teen might want to ask around the neighborhood.

Volunteering ― again, if they dare — is another good way for young people to feel independent and useful. In every community, there are vulnerable seniors who need somebody to shop for them or deliver meals to their homes. You can use www.nextdoor.com, a local networking app, to find out if any neighbors need help.

Food banks are in great need of volunteers right now. To find a food bank near you, go to www.feedingamerica.org. Blood donations are also needed. Older teens and young adults can arrange to donate by contacting the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org). For a list of creative ways to help, check out Youth Service America (www.ysa.org).

While the kids are inside the house, which in my case is still most of the time, put them to work. “Anxiety loves idle time, and when we don’t have a lot to do, our brain starts thinking the worst thoughts,” says Yesenia Marroquin, a psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

I’ve harnessed the able bodies of my young charges for household chores. A few weekends ago, I decreed a spring cleaning. They organized themselves with surprising alacrity to weed the backyard, sweep and mop the floors, clean the stove and haul out volumes of trash.

Considering the circumstances, the house is looking pretty darn good these days.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Looking for the Good Within

Breathe, and take a moment to think about how you truly feel in these uncontrollable times. We all feel some level of anxiety, some more than others. How we manage and handle this anxiety will impact both us and those around us. 

There is COVID-19 news everywhere we turn and we feel like a pressure cooker at home, lonely, anxious and ready to explode. Some of us feel lost and unable to control things for us and our loved ones. What feels overnight, we have been confined to our homes with or without family members.

As it is said that,” You can’t calm the storm… so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” We need to gather ourselves and stay calm for ourselves but also our elderly, our children and the immune-compromised. 

What can I say to help you in this time of need? What if we tried to change your thought process by changing your frame of mind? Can we try to change the story you are telling yourself? At this time, tell yourself that the Universe is giving the world a chance to reset itself by slowing down, for you to look at life from a different perspective and reconsider our ways. Sometimes taking time to do nothing brings everything in perspective.

We realize that we are deeply interconnected with human interaction that we have taken for granted. Becoming aware of what we had and being grateful for the smallest of things we have now, will help us move forward. You are alive and breathing if you are reading this and we need to feel the warmth of gratitude. You may like to place a ‘gratitude jar’ in your home and let everyone put in a slip for expressing what they are grateful for. You will realize that there are chaos and difficulty in the real world, but you are still able to find things that you are thankful for in this present moment. Writing and reading these slips of gratitude will help change your thought process to look for the good! As I mention in my book, ‘You Are the Cake’, “The simple daily act of gratitude can lower our stress levels and ground us for a healthier and happier life… Be in the moment and feel how fortunate you are in so many ways. Count your blessings.” Read these slips of gratitude and over time your mind will automatically look for the good. 

Send out your positive vibes to others and those suffering. But in all this do not lose focus that you must practice self-care and compassion. You have time now to spare, so sit down and be steadfast and reduce your anxiety. Don’t give all your attention to the external world. Look for the good within. How do you do this and reduce stress? Meditation, Visualization Tapping are different ways of achieving this (you can find more information in my book, You Are the Cake). At this time of need, I have made the kindle version available at virtually no cost to everyone.

Here is a short Metta or loving-kindness meditation and visualization we can use to reduce our fears and send out positive vibes to the world. 

  1. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes.
  2. Breathe in and out regulating the breath. 
  3. Visualize yourself, your family, your loved ones, the community and the people of the world one by one.  
  4. Say this in your mind with a feeling of compassion.

May I and the others be happy, safe and well. 

May there be peace, wellness, and love. 

All is okay 

  1.  Continue breathing with calmness in every breath. 
  2.  Close your eyes and picture that you are gathering all your negative stressful thoughts. Visualize yourself taking a broom and sweeping up all the negativity. Picture it being put into a bag and thrown away. Let go of this stress and move forward towards looking for the good. 
  3. Visualize yourself calm, well and happy. Breathe, be grateful and open your eyes gently. Let that smile linger on your face and in your heart. 
  4.  Feel the stillness deep inside and keep some energy and balance within.

Mental and social isolation can get to one. I suggest that you connect with your friends and family via phone, video conferencing, emails or so many more ways. I can video-chat, participate in group calls or multiplayer social games with my friends. This laughter and connection make me feel good and centered.   

Listen to the fact that we need to shelter-in-place to provide safety and flatten the curve of this deadly outbreak. To those who can offer help to the elderly via shopping or other errands, please reach out safely. You can donate to the families of the first responders, our heroes or the homeless. Donate blood at the Red Cross. Some people are printing 3D face masks for the responders, others sewing masks. Do whatever you can to help this hurting world. Working on a hobby will keep you focused and fulfilled. I enjoy painting and trying to sing, but when I do then everyone leaves the room!

We can take turns becoming a balm for each other. Let’s not worry about being perfect or getting it all right. Know that you are doing the best you can. 

Reduce your stress, be in the moment and be grateful for the smallest of things. Stress makes you believe that everything needs to happen right now while faith assures you that everything will happen at the right and perfect time. Have faith and move towards looking for the good. 

Geetanjali Arunkumar is the author of ‘You Are the Cake’ and a wellness coach. 

In The Valley, Hi-Tech Collides with Mental Health

I have lived in the Silicon Valley for over twenty years and watched the Indian American population increase in number and influence but some things stay the same, the stubbornly insular thoughts on what success is – meteoric academic success followed by a STEM degree and financial success in a tech company. There is nothing wrong about those dreams, but it leaves little space for any others.

Saila Kariat started on the same path, a doctorate in Electrical Engineering followed by a successful career in the tech world.  But she was not happy because, since her childhood, Saila had always dreamed of being a filmmaker. So, she took a chance and went to film school to learn about screenwriting, directing and film history.

And then her brother died.  Losing a sibling was traumatic, but what was more devastating was that her brother, who was schizophrenic, never got the help he needed.

Her family was not alone in their failure to help a suffering child because they were unable to cope with an illness they could not understand.

Saila acutely remembers the pain of being shunned by other Indian families because of her brother’s mental health condition.  For a long time, mental illness has been a taboo subject in the Indian American community, and society at large did not recognize or acknowledge the issue, or provide much needed therapy.

“My brother had a very rough life,” said Saila.  She realized that this story was replicating itself over and over again, and it gave her the impetus to write what would become her first movie – The Valley.

As a novice scriptwriter, it took her nine revisions, and input from many folk for over a year, before Saila had a finished script for The Valley.

Then came the really hard part – finding the money to produce the movie. Saila encountered various obstacles, including potential producers who suggested that she make her characters Caucasian, to appeal to a wider audience.

Eventually, she found the right investors and cast and learned how to schedule and budget the making of a movie – competencies Saila is now confident about when she makes her next film.

In 2017, Wavefront Pictures released The Valley, written, directed and co-produced by Saila Kariat, and starring well-known actors Ally Khan and Suchitra Pillai.  The movie has been invited to 22 film festivals.  It has won several awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island International Film Festival as well as Best Original Screenplay for  Saila Kariat at the Madrid International Film Festival.

Saila Kariat’s award-winning film, The Valley

The Valley addresses a difficult subject matter.  It raises issues like self-harm and suicide, as well as sexual assault and violence.  It is important to understand that watching or reading about these themes could serve as  a trigger for individuals suffering with mental health issues; according to experts, stories about teen suicide (currently the second leading cause of death for children and young people 10 to 24 years old), can have a ‘contagious’ or copycat effect.  So while movies like The Valley can serve as a powerful teaching tool, “children in groups at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and actions should not watch the show alone.”  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers additional guidelines on how to view such programs with vulnerable or at-risk children.

I saw The Valley at a premiere in Palo Alto, Calif. and was moved. The story centers around Neal Kumar, a father agonised by his daugher’s suicide, who goes on a quest to understand what happened to her, and why. His search reveals that there are no villains in this story and despite everyone doing their best, nobody recognized the signs of anxiety and depression. And that was the ultimate tragedy.

That the story plays out against a backdrop of affluence and success in the Silicon Valley, is fundamental to understanding how some vulnerable kids lose their way.  The devastated father is confused by his daughter’s suicide in a family that had the best life he could provide.

In the Silicon Valley the pressure to succeed  is extremely high, especially on kids from successful, immigrant families, where parents are not able to stomach any failure from their children.  It’s hard to tell desi friends you are struggling with anything, because everyone pretends to be perfect. The Silicon Valley loudly trumpets the mantra of  “Fail fast, Fail often”, but also masks the fact that there is frantic pedalling going on unseen, underwater. This sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Saila shares her motivation, “I wanted to tell a story that shows that every person – regardless of their ethnicity, position, wealth or education – has intrinsic value. And I want to shed light on mental health issues, which often go unnoticed and untreated, particularly within the Asian community. I want people to think about the inherent conflict between ambition and human connection. The first breeds hyper competitiveness, while the latter encourages empathy. Empathy is what is needed to deal with any mental health issue.”

Does Saila think her movie is a success?  Yes, because she has seen first hand the impact that it has had on some young people who are now getting the help they need.

Saila has other ideas in the pipeline on hard hitting topics, including gun control.  It takes a lot of courage and grit to launch a new career. But Saila is doing them for the right reasons.  I applaud her for it!

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8772540/

You  can watch it on Amazon Prime and YouTube, among other streaming services.

Saila Kariat is writer, director and producer at Wavefront Pictures

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal

Yoga And Depression

Yoga and Depression

An essay first published in April 2017.

My dad’s yoga practice was as dependable as mangoes in Chennai’s summer and Carnatic music concerts in December. I don’t think he missed a single day of sirasasana and sarvangasana—perfectly aligned head and shoulder stands, followed by pranayama (regulated breathing). Dad was my first yoga teacher and we began when I was 7 or 8 years old; he’d carefully support me as I tried to find my balance in the sarvangasana pose. A busy stockbroker with his own firm, and a patron of several nonprofits, his yoga practice afforded him the only time during the day to invest in his health. Dad’s love of yoga began with two problems in his teenage years—he was not as tall as he would have liked to be, and he had acne! Believing that inverted poses which stimulate blood circulation could help, he began taking lessons from the legendary Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, teacher of B.K.S. Iyengar, credited with bringing yoga to the West. Soon after beginning yoga, his acne disappeared and he’d grown taller! Voila! He was sold on yoga and stuck with it for life.

Every time I see a new study on the benefits of yoga, I think about my dad. I imagine him nodding and saying, “But of course-I knew that already!” A recent study, Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing by the Boston University Medical Center, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, shows that asana and pranayama can help reduce symptoms of major depressive disorders (MDD) such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder and social anxiety in people who practice yoga at least twice a week.

Thirty participants were introduced to 12 weeks of Iyengar yoga for 90-minute sessions twice or three times per week, in addition to home practice. Classes consisted of approximately 60 minutes of asanas as well as deep relaxation, (shavasana—the corpse pose),  and ujjayi breathing (slow the respiratory rate).

The findings show yoga-based interventions are an effective alternative or supplement to anti-depressants. Both the groups (twice and three times a week) experienced a significant reduction in their depressive symptoms.

“This study supports the use of a yoga and coherent breathing intervention in people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants and have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms,” says Dr. Chris Streeter, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University, in an interview with the Boston University School of Medicine.

Streeter said intervention through yoga could help avoid side effects from drugs and drug interactions. “While most pharmacologic treatment for depression targets monoamine systems, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, this intervention targets the parasympathetic and gamma aminobutyric acid system and provides a new avenue for treatment,” he said.

I asked my friend Dr. Jayapriya Krishnaswamy, a physician in Hartford, Conn., what she thought of the study. She said that while exercise in general has shown to increase endorphins, there is an enormous focus on relaxation and recovery poses in yoga. “The mind is calmed by pranayama, and shavasana increases overall awareness,” she said. “This can help reduce depression.”

B.K.S. Iyengar explains in his book Light on Life: “It is through the alignment of my body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.”
John Schumacher, a certified advanced Iyengar yoga teacher and founder of Unity Woods Yoga Center in Bethesda, Maryland, was inspired to travel to India and learn from B.K.S. Iyengar after reading Light on Yoga.

“Depression and stress are physical and mental ailments, but they are also energetic disorders,” he said. “Energy is very low in depressed people, except in the case of anxious depression where the person’s energy is uncontrolled and undirected. The depressed patient should practice in such a way as to bring the energy to a stable and strong level. This often involves supported and active back bending poses, standing poses, and inversions. Stress requires a somewhat different approach, often employing supported poses and quieting breaths to calm the irritated mind and chaotic energy of the practitioner. Alignment and breath are vital aspects of treating depression and stress.”

Another of B.K.S. Iyengar’s students, Brooke Myers, teaches at the Iyengar Institute of Greater New York. Once, she said, she assisted B.K.S. Iyengar as he taught a depressed man at his institute in India. “From that experience, my own, and that of many other students, I feel yoga is marvelous for treating depression,” she said.

Sujata Srinivasan is an award-winning Connecticut-based journalist whose work has appeared extensively in NPR’s Connecticut regional station WNPR, Forbes India, and Connecticut Business Magazine. She currently reports on healthcare for the Connecticut Health Investigative Team (C-HIT). 

Published first in January 2018.