Tag Archives: #mentalhealth

The Power of Visualization: A South Asian Dream

Are you ready to achieve your goals and ideal life? 2021 is the year to renew, refresh, revitalize and move towards achieving your goals. Visualization is a tool you can use to realize your goals and attract what you desire. I use this tool regularly and would like to tell you more about it.

A Vision Board is a tool that is used to represent your intentions and goals to create your ideal life with images, pictures, symbols, numbers, positive words, and affirmations. It helps you clarify your goals.

Define your goals in your relationships, work, family, finance, or more by writing them down. To make it simple and more effective, let’s build yourself a Vision Board. Choose pictures and images that bring forth objects and experiences that you want to attract in your life. Take a board, or if you prefer things online, you could also use an online tool like a ‘Pinterest’ board. You can cut out pictures from the newspaper, magazines, and the internet which may speak to you about your goals, ideas, vision, and success. 

Add a happy picture of yourself to this collection! 

Try to organize your pictures to make them appealing to yourself. Bring forth your creative juices while working on your vision board. You can use markers or metallic pens to write quotes, positive words, and affirmations. 

Your vision board could be oriented towards a short-term or long-term goal or a specific area. I tend to create different boards for the various aspects of my life; relationships, health, job goals, finance, travel.

Place your vision board in a place that is easily visible to you. You may like it on your nightstand, worktable, fridge, or even on the lock screen of your phone.

I have learned that seeing it for 5 minutes when you awaken and just before sleeping are the most powerful times of the day. Seeing the images the first thing in the morning helps in creating what you want to happen or have. In addition, seeing these images one hour before bedtime keeps these images running through your subconscious mind at night in a replay mode.

What is Creative Visualization? You start to create mental images vividly and repeatedly in your mind of what you want to happen, in order to help that event come about in real life.

We have all heard the quote, “ A picture is worth a thousand words.”

We picture the images we want as IT HAS HAPPENED. Our brain and subconscious receive the message of what it is we desire and set the wheels in motion to make that wish come true. When we learn how to visualize correctly, the images we generate become a reality.  

Image from www.berries.com

Once you have created your Vision Board you can select and focus on one image. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, where you won’t be interrupted, and begin picturing in your mind what it is that you want. It could be an event you want to occur, a goal you want to achieve, or a personality trait, such as self-confidence or compassion, that you want to develop more fully. It may also be that you want to improve your health, relationships, or work life. 

See it clearly in your mind’s eye and really get into the experience. Give your imagination free reign, Imagine all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations you would expect to be there when your dream finally manifests as reality. Picture yourself inside the story, not outside looking in

Feel as it has happened, not happening. 

If, for example, you wish for your children to be healthy and well-balanced. Picture them in front of you – laughing, happy, caring, and loving. Listen to the sounds of laughter, the smell of the scent of the soap after the kids have showered, and the aroma of a home-cooked meal. Feel the joy of reaching out and hugging your children and the bonds of being together. 

For instance, a Bharatnatyam dancer who wants to achieve her goal to be an accomplished dancer has to have ambition, dedication, and a want to achieve her dream. While closing her eyes she imagines herself on stage in front of people, dancing with confidence and grace. The dancer can hear her heartbeat and the elation of the crowd. She feels the swish of her colorful attire against her skin. Her ‘abhinaya’ or the expression in motion should be felt like a warm feeling coursing through her body. In the ‘tilana’, she explodes into leaps and jumps, moving in all directions with the fast tempo of the music. The Bharatnatyam dancer hears the three clangs of the cymbals and knows that she has given it all. The more she visualizes this with all her senses, the more she will be able to achieve her goal. 

Athletes use visualization to help them achieve peak performance By picturing themselves flawlessly executing a difficult maneuver, they are more likely to execute the maneuver flawlessly when the time comes to actually do it. Speakers visualize in order to stay calm during speeches. 

The more real and detailed the experience is in your imagination, the more powerful the visualization will be and the sooner it will happen in your life as a reality. Repeat this a few times during the day. For extra oomph, try combining an affirmation with each visualization. The practice of visualization will help you achieve your goal. Have patience, focus on this powerful tool, and learn to enjoy the beauty of this magical resource. Go on to try building your Vision Board and using Creative Visualization and see the results!


Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is the author of ‘You Are The Cake’.

Why Should You and I Care About Palliative Care?

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on South Asian health and wellbeing.

My wife’s oncologist recommended a palliative-care consultation during one of her checkups. This was the first time we heard about it and my wife, subsequently, received beneficial palliative care alongside her ongoing treatment for cancer. Since then, I’ve continued to learn more about palliative care and how it helps patients living with various kinds of serious illnesses. I’ve also realized that most people know very little, or are misinformed about palliative care. We need to understand this relatively new medical specialty; it can do a lot for us and our loved ones in the event of a serious health issue. 

Palliative care is specialized care for people living with a serious illness. It is a type of care focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of different kinds of serious and chronic, progressive illnesses, and is provided in addition to, and concurrent with, ongoing medical care. It supports the patient’s ability to feel better while undergoing treatments which could be intense and sometimes not well tolerated. The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

To palliate is to make something – for example, a disease or its symptoms – less severe or unpleasant. Palliative Medicine is relatively new. It has its roots in the work of Cecily Saunders and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s. The term Palliative Care was coined in 1974 by Dr. Balfour Mount, a surgical oncologist at The Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada. It was recognized as a field of specialty medicine in Great Britain in 1987, the same year that Cleveland Clinic started the first Palliative Medicine service in the United States. It became a board-certified subspecialty of medicine in the United States in 2006, just 15 years ago.

Let me repeat: Palliative care is specialized care for someone living with a serious or chronic progressive illness, focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness, to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. It is based on the needs of each individual patient and can be provided at any time during his or her illness, along with the treatment he or she is already receiving, regardless of the prognosis, expected trajectory of the disease, or age of the patient.

What, specifically, does palliative care do? It provides relief from pain, nausea, constipation, neuropathy, shortness of breath, or other side effects and symptoms caused by the illness and/or treatment. It helps when patients and their families have trouble coping with the illness and are anxious, depressed, stressed, or fatigued, and enables them to better carry out their daily tasks and do the things they want. Palliative care can also improve the quality of life for both the patient and his or her family. 

What is meant by quality of life? That depends on the patient! He or she defines what is important at that moment and in the future. The palliative care team works with the patient and his or her family to understand what’s important and what matters most to them, and takes that into account to formulate a treatment plan and provide the best possible support to help realize those goals.

I used the phrase palliative-care team.  Care is provided by a specially-trained, multidisciplinary team that typically includes doctors, nurses, medical assistants, social workers, chaplains, and other specialists. This is because palliative care extends beyond a patient’s physiological and medical needs and addresses other factors that may be affecting their quality of life, including psychological, spiritual, and social needs. These needs vary from patient to patient. In addition, they can vary over time for a given patient.

Needs could include: help with figuring out what medications should be taken and when; thinking things through, and weighing options when faced with decisions on a suggested next step in treatment; help navigating the complexity of a large hospital when referred to different specialists or when various tests are ordered. Sometimes stress can overwhelm the patient, caregiver, or another family member, and they could benefit from having a caring listener, or just a hand to hold for a while. The costs of treatment are a huge concern for many of us, so the assistance of a qualified individual to sort through financial questions might be valuable. When serious illness brings up existential and spiritual questions, trained chaplains could provide answers, solace, comfort, and a compassionate presence. Nutritionists who understand the patient’s diagnosis and condition can help address dietary concerns.   

Palliative-care specialists treat people living with many types of serious and chronic illnesses, regardless of their age, stage of the disease, and whether or not they are still receiving curative treatment; these include cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and other life-limiting diseases. Pediatric palliative care is an upcoming specialty. During the current pandemic, it’s an essential part of treatment for those who have contracted COVID-19.

Many confuse palliative care with hospice and believe a recommendation for palliative care implies the patient has a condition that will imminently end his or her life. This is not correct. Palliative care can be very useful for those managing a long-term illness. Quality research provides evidence that the early introduction of palliative care provides all the benefits described above, and results in fewer hospitalizations, a reduced burden on the family, and greater satisfaction overall. Hospice is a form of palliative care for those patients judged to be approaching end of life – and typically have six months or less left to live – who decide to focus on comfort instead of prolonging treatments.

Most private insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative-care services in hospitals and nursing homes. However, you should always consult with your insurance provider to understand your coverage in detail.

I hope this has helped you better understand Palliative Care and dispel any related misconceptions. 


Mukund Acharya is a regular columnist for India Currents. He is also President and a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area that advocates for healthy aging within the South Asian community. Sukham provides curated information and resources on health and well-being, aging, and life’s transitions, including serious illness, palliative and hospice care, death, and bereavement. Contact the author at sukhaminfo@gmail.com

Sincere thanks to Drs. Neelu Mehra at Kaiser Permanente, and Kavitha Ramchandran & Grant Smith at Stanford Health Care – Palliative Care Physicians who have contributed greatly to my understanding of Palliative Care.

With sincere thanks to Trung Nguyen at Pexels for the use of her beautiful photograph.

Our New Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy Brings Us Together

Loneliness is like a cold hand resting on your heart. It can tighten your chest, and make you desperate with longing for company and support. I have certainly felt it on many an occasion: while new to a place, recovering from a loss, a death, a fractured friendship. You may have too. It can only be shaken off by the warm hand of a friend, a loved one, or sometimes, even a stranger.

Vivek Murthy’s book Together, The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World was written before the COVID-19 pandemic and was published in April 2020. Many of its observations, however, have a heightened bearing in the pandemic. In an interview published in the LA Review of Books, Murthy defined it eloquently: “Loneliness exists in that gap between the social connection we need, and the social connection we feel is available to us.” In the book, he calls loneliness “the great masquerader” as it can appear in different forms such as “anger, alienation, sadness, and a host of distressing emotional states.”

Vivek Murthy comes across in this book as a gentle soul, deeply understanding of the feelings of loneliness from his own life experiences. This understanding, coupled with his medical training, scientific bent, intellectual curiosity, keen powers of observation, and obvious commitment to public health makes this a very readable, thought-provoking book.

His tone, sincerity, and story-telling skills reminded me of another physician and author, Abraham Verghese, whose book The Tennis Partner is a beautiful account of friendship, addiction, and loneliness.

Murthy starts by laying out the different types of loneliness identified by research: 

  • Intimate, or emotional, loneliness – the longing for a close confidante or intimate partner;
  • Relational, or social, loneliness – the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support;
  • Collective loneliness – the hunger for a network or community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.

All three dimensions are needed for us to thrive; one may have fulfillment in one or two areas but still feel lonely.

Murthy makes the case for how loneliness has evolved, the scientific, neurological underpinnings. Throughout history and evolution over millions of years, humans have depended on community for survival. Together, humans were stronger and better able to withstand dangers, such as attacks by other groups. When one strayed or was separated from the group, one’s very life could be at risk. Hence, the importance of community is practically hardwired into us.

The science underlying loneliness, along with the implications to one’s health, is well researched by Murthy and presented with the requisite references. Dr. John Cacioppo, one of the founders of the field of social neuroscience, first likened loneliness to hunger and thirst, as an important warning signal with biochemical and genetic roots, calling it “a biological and social imperative rooted in thousands of years of human evolution.” The work of Dr. Julianne Holt-Lundstad, a health and social psychologist, showed that weak social connections can be a significant danger to our health.

There are fascinating accounts of research into brain activity during the times we are engaged with others. One of the most striking findings for me was to learn that the same part of the brain that responds to physical pain also responds to emotional pain. Connecting the dots, Murthy makes the connection clear: that people in emotional pain and despair often reach for a numbing drug or drink, as they might for physical pain. This is particularly insightful for the opioid epidemic, from which society is currently reeling.

Murthy’s relates several examples of how people’s lives have been affected by loneliness: children, young, middle-aged, and older adults, both men and women. His account of his own childhood, being bullied for looking and sounding different, will strike a chord with many who have struggled with fitting in and felt they didn’t belong. In a section of friendships among middle school girls, I paused to remember my own daughter’s deep sadness when a close friendship broke off. So many children go through this in middle school, a critical period in their social and emotional development. Support and love are essential to help them tide over such times, until they feel more secure in themselves.

Some of Murthy’s accounts of children subjected to toxic stress (from neglect and or abuse) were heartbreaking. He said studies that have shown, mercifully, that all it takes is one caring adult to prevent and reverse the effects. He gives the example of  Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America,  a non-profit which matches children with supportive adults in one-to-one mentoring relationships.

While the physiological underpinnings of loneliness are the same for all, circumstances may vary, and the effective countermeasure depends on individual inclinations, preferences, and reservations people may have. It’s no big secret or surprise that men are typically less inclined to openly share what is troubling them than are women. Their styles of communicating, and hence their preferred ways of seeking and finding comfort and support, are very different. For example, “Men’s sheds”, local non-profit organizations where men gather around a common activity, build trust, companionship, and community, is an initiative that was started in one locality in Australia and has spread to different parts of the world.

In the second section of the book, he speaks of the different ways we can connect with one another to preempt or assuage loneliness, and with that, be on the path to a healthier life and a healthier society. The circles of connection he describes track with the different types of loneliness; the friendship circles consist of:

  • an inner circle of close friends and confidants,
  • a middle circle of occasional companions, and
  • an outer circle of colleagues and acquaintances.

In a beautiful section on the importance of solitary reflection, Murthy encourages us to tune in to ourselves with an analogy to the heart pumping blood: while the heart pumps blood in systole, it is in diastole that the blood is supplied with oxygen. Hence, “pausing is what sustains the heart.” Art, music, reading, and being in nature are all experiences that can be enjoyed in solitude but make us feel connected with others. One shining example for me is that of Andrea Bocelli on Easter Sunday, singing “Amazing Grace” from the Duomo Cathedral in Italy at the height of the pandemic, bringing the whole world together as we all sat apart in fear and worry. I wrote of this and other ways we have been able to come together during the pandemic.

Murthy describes the three-way relationship between service, loneliness, and addiction. He quotes Rabindranath Tagore, India’s Nobel laureate poet, and from the scriptures of Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all of which have service written into them. I was reminded of a prominent scientist in the bay area, the late Nagesh Mhatre, who would exhort people “If you are feeling down, find someone who is suffering more and help them. You will both feel better.” The very act of helping someone makes one feel more needed, less lonely, adds a feeling of self-worth.

There are several inspiring examples of individuals, a college freshman named Serena Bian, for one, who surmounted her feelings of loneliness and depression. Even with these inspiring anecdotes and observations, the second section doesn’t hold together as well as the first. There are newer problem statements: connecting kids in the digital age, seeking support from one’s community during parental crises. Parents struggle with childcare. When anything goes awry, a carefully constructed day can fall apart in minutes. While this book was written in pre-pandemic days, parents’ struggles have only become greater. Being responsible for months for children’s schooling from home has stretched many a family to breaking point. Those who must work outside the home have sometimes been forced to make a choice between work and caring for their children. Most of the time, the burden falls on women. The economics are sobering. There have been articles stating that in the workplace, the pandemic will set back women by decades.

While the last two chapters are filled with inspiring anecdotes, I am left wondering how all this can be formalized, how scalable the approaches are without a coordinated nationwide initiative. It requires effort, work, to build community, and it might take more energy than many have when they are burdened by their circumstances or depression.

In America, we live in a deeply individualistic society. Murthy seems optimistic of the ways in which we can build community even with everything that keeps us apart. I find myself less hopeful: since this book was published, we have had the most sobering, divisive period in American history since the struggle to end segregation. Building community seems harder now than ever. On the positive side, we have a new administration, of which Murthy is an important part, and perhaps there will be change for the better.

Towards the end of the book, Murthy’s states surprisingly that “as hard as we may work… the future will depend on our children. It’s up to all of us to teach them how to build a more connected and compassionate world.” Indeed it is, we must strive to be good parents. But are we to just kick the can down the road to our children? I was reminded of Greta Thunberg’s outrage at the 2019 UN climate summit when she exclaimed to the adults who had left things to her generation: “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back at school on the other side of the ocean. You come to us young people for hope. How dare you?”

This book presents an important concept that leads to a policy focus on child development. How about assuring social-emotional development at the national level, instead of relying on countless non-profit organizations to pick up where schools and society have dropped the ball? 

In Amanda Gorman’s powerful words, delivered at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

“…our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.

Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain:

If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our

legacy and change, our children’s birthright.”

Vivek Murthy has used his pulpit to shine a light on a key contributor to our health and well-being. This book explicitly callout loneliness as a critical contributor to much of what ails us, our physical health as well as the health of our society. If the purpose of the book is to increase awareness and understanding, it has succeeded. If it is to show a clear path forward, it falls short. A diagnosis is the first step. A remedy must follow. In the UK, in 2018, an initiative to combat loneliness was started at the ministerial level. It is not clear what progress has been made. Perhaps the US needs to follow suit.

Dr. Murthy is in a position to chart out the role the government might play, now that he is starting his second stint as Surgeon General, this time in the Biden administration. With his deeply realized perspective on loneliness and health, perhaps we can expect to see more work on this front.

All the best, Dr. Murthy, and Godspeed.

Upcoming Silicon Valley Reads book events are shown here.


Raji Pillai lives in the SF Bay Area and writes at www.rajiwrites.com where this article was originally published. 

Help Mitigate Intimate Partner Violence By Taking a Survey!

(Featured Image: Illustration by Jawahir Hassan Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera)

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a global health problem that disproportionately affects women; about 35% of women globally have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. The core elements of IPV include: physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression.

In the United States, it is estimated that 35.6% of all women will experience IPV in their lifetime. IPV results in several mental and physical health issues, which has shown to disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority and immigrant women. Literature on rates for IPV has reported that Asian American minorities have a significantly greater odds of experiencing IPV compared with other racial and ethnic groups.

Specifically, Asian Indian Americans report a 38-94% risk for lifetime experiences of violence. Research, educational outreach, and prevention programs can help educate and provide resources for Indian Americans on IPV related issues, however, these services have been criticized for an overemphasis on Western (European and American) ideologies. To create services with a better cultural perspective for Indian Americans, it is important to create a culturally relevant definition of IPV.

As an Indian American myself, I feel the effects of a lack of representation in research and healthcare services, which is why I started this research project examining perceptions of IPV within Indian American communities. Considering the severity of this health issue, this research raises awareness on IPV and its consequences within the Indian American community. Using survey data collected from Indian American communities, the current study will establish the relationship between IPV and its factors. To gather data for this research, willing and interested participants are encouraged to participate in a confidential online survey that takes 25 minutes to complete. The survey will ask you questions about your opinions and experiences as an Indian American on IPV and IPV related factors. Demographic information will also be collected.

If you are interested in joining in this effort to spread awareness and encourage others to make their voice heard in our Indian American community, here is the link to the survey: https://www.psychdata.com/s.asp?SID=191163

If you feel uncomfortable answering any questions, you are able to skip any questions at any time. In order to be a participant in this study, you must be at least 18 years of age or older and be an Asian Indian American. 


Briana Joseph is the daughter of two Indian immigrants from Kerala and is currently in her third year of college. This research is a part of her thesis and she hopes to continue this line of research in graduate school.

Charting a Course For Renewal

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on health and wellbeing.

As 2020 drew to a merciful close, our editor sent me a note suggesting we begin the new year with a focus on renewal and the environment around us. I filed that thought away as I began a break from my normal routine for a few days, but it kept nibbling away at a corner of my subconscious.  Having lived through a crazy, head-spinning, and gut-wrenching year, we were all ready for a reprieve in 2021; aching for relief and deliverance from all that we had endured. We fervently wished and prayed for change, for that time of renewal and return to normalcy. Instead, we were visited by the horrendous events of January 6th and their aftermath. Like so many others, my world stopped spinning for a few days as I watched in horror – and then re-played in slow motion – the brutal assault on our democracy and our very way of life. All the while, news about the pandemic did not get any better either. Did we not turn the page on our calendars? Had we flashed back into the dark abyss? 

It took me two more weeks, but I’ve finally begun to breathe again in the past few days. My usual, optimistic self is peering out cautiously from that dark recess. Now it’s time, I tell myself.  Now it’s time for renewal, time for change, time to emerge from one of the darkest periods in our lifetimes, dare to hope, and strive for a return to normalcy.

Oh, normal sounds so good now!

Renewal is associated with a Stop,” writes Bob Dunham, “Stopping is not just Pausing. Stopping is open to choose a new path, not just resuming the old one. With Stopping, we don’t just pause and rest to resume the game. In Stopping, we reflect and choose whether the old game is worth returning to, whether there is a new and different game to play – perhaps a game that is healthier, more meaningful, valuable, and loving.” 

I think that’s the perfect mindset for us as we make our way out of the tunnel we’ve been in for so many months, and into that sunshine that awaits us. Let’s not kid ourselves, a steep hill still lies ahead of us, and it will require grit, determination, and collective will to help each other to the top of the ridge and descend towards our new normal – whatever that may be.  However, we can get there if we choose. Of that, I am now convinced.

I associate renewal with the cycles of nature.  There is a rhythm to the cyclic process of creation – the birth, nourishment, and growth of plants and other living species. Let’s take a leaf from Mother Nature’s playbook. Barb Schmidt, a teacher of spiritual practices and author of The Practice, points to Springtime as a metaphor for our lives. We can focus our attention on living in the world and “feel rejuvenated and motivated to make our lives and the world a more beautiful place,” she urges. We need to see “the beauty that is already present in each moment by bringing our attention right where we are: right where we need to be—right here in the now.” We need to train ourselves to build this awareness that gives us access to that inner light, pursue our purpose, find meaning, and thrive. Looking inwards to nurture our inner world will help us blossom in the world outside. And along the way, we can plant a few flowers and trees for the others around us to cherish.

Let’s heed Barb Schmidt’s advice.  Let’s resolve to conquer the hill that remains before us, and in doing so make this our time of renewal! 

How do we lift the weight of the past year off our shoulders, build this inner awareness, find that inner light and begin afresh to pursue our purpose? First, stay away from resolutions. Around 40% of people in the US make resolutions when seeking a fresh start, as at the beginning of a new year. Resolutions create expectations, and can very soon become burdens. Instead, focus on specific outcomes. Pick out a purpose that you care about, that is meaningful and important to you. Whenever you are able to do so, take small concrete steps to achieve that purpose, without focusing on the time it might take to reach that goal. As long as you stay connected to your purpose, you will get there.

Tailor your expectations and demands on yourself. We have all been through a period of tremendous stress that is not going away just because we started a new year.  Reduce the pressure on yourself by focusing on and prioritizing self-compassion. The uncertainty that has plagued us over the past year is not going away soon. We’ve all come to expect some level of predictability in our day-to-day lives, without which we find it challenging to make plans. This makes it extremely difficult to set and achieve goals for ourselves. The way around this dilemma is to set smaller, shorter-term goals. 

Achieving one such goal before setting the next one assures a higher chance of success; it’s a way to deal with uncertainty that helps to build confidence, morale, and a sense of accomplishment. These small wins “add up over time” and keep you motivated, says Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.  They help set yourself up for success.  Another key is practicing gratitude; which Ms. Dattilo believes, has the power to bring about positive changes in us. And along the way, do not forget to make the time to do something – however small – that will brighten the day for another – be that a parent, child, sibling, neighbor, friend, colleague or stranger. Bringing light into another’s day will brighten your own.

Find purpose, set micro-goals, practice self-compassion, self-care, and gratitude. Reward yourself and help another.  Dr. Susan McDaniel defines renewal as the state of being made new, fresh, or strong again—to restore, replenish, revive, re-establish, recover.  An appropriate definition in our current context! 

Chart a course for your own renewal, one that is healthier, more meaningful, valuable, and loving.


Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. He is also a columnist for India Currents. 

With sincere thanks to Ms. Poonam Singh for the use of her beautiful photograph.

An Unseen Epidemic: Indian Americans & the Opioid Crisis

On 5th July 2020, Ikonkar Manmohan Singh Sandhu, a young 23-year-old boy, died from an opioid overdose in Michigan just months before he was to be married. He is by no means an isolated case in the Indian American community.

A small group of doctors are sounding the alarm on the nation’s opioid crisis. Dr. Arun Gupta is one of those who is urging health authorities to wake up to this catastrophe, which is ripping through communities with scant regard for race, gender, educational level, or financial standing.

To be fair, before COVID-19 ravaged the country, the growing opioid addiction was giving the nation’s health officials sleepless nights. The pandemic put this issue on the back burner and while more Americans are dying from the virus, it can be just as deadly if left unchecked.

Opioid overdoses have killed more than 70,000 young people annually between the ages of 18-54 for the past five years. In 2011, the CDC reported that overdose deaths superseded auto accident deaths for the first time in 32 states This is now true for all 50 states. The organization also reported that more than 700,000 young Americans have died between 1999- 2017 from polydrug overdose. That number is expected to be as high as one million by the end of 2020. The report further states that “preventable disease & retroactive analysis show that most of these deaths were unintentional.”  Isolation, stress, and the depression, that came in the wake of the pandemic are shooting cases through the roof.

Dr. Arun Gupta

“Parents are burying their children and children are burying their parents,” says Dr. Gupta. 

Dr. Gupta is quick to rid you of the rosy view that Indo American families have been unaffected by this affliction. It is a growing trend in the community, he says, largely due to parents’ unrealistic expectations for their children and the reality of facing conflicting cultures. What worsens it, is that many are either in denial or wary of seeking professional help for fear of being stigmatized or shunned. These are lives that could have easily been saved, he laments, much like the case of a distant relative who died because the family hesitated to reach out for help or were unaware of the problem.

A physician for 34 years, of which 14 are as a doctor of addiction management, Dr. Gupta has seen enough to be worried. He has been charting the surge in cases throughout the nation for the past decade and is seeing it played out at his doorstep – the rural region of Monroe, Michigan where he runs his private practice.

For 11 years, Dr. Gupta was the local prison doctor where he saw the interplay of drugs and death up close and the ineffectiveness of the administration’s efforts to curb it. This pushed him to change tracks from being a general physician to addiction management. Rural communities, he observes, are more prone to opioid addiction than urban areas where the population is better educated and have higher-paying jobs. The problem is compounded when there is family instability, lack of education, poverty,  physical, mental and sexual abuse in childhood, mental illness, or addiction both in the family and the patient. 

So why are addictive opioids prescribed in the first place and how do they hook us? About 25 years ago, pharma company Purdue, manufacturers of the painkiller Oxycodone, pushed the government to sanction prescribing painkillers for non-cancer-related pain. The American Pain Society also classified pain as the fifth vital sign after blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and weight. Statistically, 40% of the country’s population is in chronic pain and many require pain medication to carry out their daily activities or even go into work.

Addiction starts innocuously enough with a prescription for a painkiller to treat post-surgery or chronic pain as in instances of back pain. Consuming these painkillers diminishes the pain but also brings on a euphoric feeling as it raises dopamine – the brain’s pleasure hormone. Celebrities like Michael Jackson were known to use them before a performance, a term referred to as, “spotlight euphoria.” Additionally, it changes the perception of reality for those dealing with psychological issues such as an inferiority complex or anxiety,  these people now start “liking themselves and feeling good.” This altered reality quickly spirals into an emotional and social need followed by dependence and cravings for the painkiller.

The signs of addiction are evident in drastic mood changes, lethargy, or impaired decision-making, among others. Discontinuing the painkillers could lead to a host of withdrawal symptoms such as chills, tremors, body aches, bone pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or irregular respiration. However, Dr. Gupta clarifies that not everyone gets addicted to painkillers and the risk of addiction is only about 10%.

Soon, Oxycodone grew so popular that it began to have, “street value.” When prescriptions ran out, users turned to the streets where it could be obtained illegally. Hustlers began faking health issues to procure and sell these painkillers giving rise to the term “pill-mill.” The cost of one milligram of Oxycontin is one dollar so someone using 1000mg was spending $1000 a day. While insurance took care of legitimate prescriptions, those who were addicted were shelling out their own money. This, of course, was done in connivance with “some doctors who played the game.” Dr. Gupta estimates that about 1000 doctors have been apprehended so far for violating this practice and have “tarnished the image of doctors.”

There is an obvious connection between mental disorders and addictive disorders and its consequences can sometimes be life-threatening. Doctors, however, are required by law to treat pain with painkillers even if there is a sense/awareness that this medication could become addictive to the patient. On the other hand, if doctors practice caution in prescribing pain medication, they risk a bad review on their practice, something every doctor understandably wants to avoid. 

In 1999, the Center for Disease Control went on record for the first time and shared its report of 4000 young Americans who died from drugs. The government scrutinized the problem and rolled out the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000. For the first time, this law allowed practicing doctors to learn and treat addiction with an FDA approved drug. The law also stipulated that any practicing doctor could complete an addiction program and receive an X DEA license which would allow them to treat 30 patients per month for a year. If the doctor’s records are found in order, they could treat 100 patients per month. Past President Barack Obama signed a law that would allow some doctors with specific credentials to treat 275 patients a month. This number was controlled to prevent its misuse but sometimes the best-intentioned laws have unintended consequences.

This one did. 

Only 4300 doctors in the US can treat 275 patients a month and Dr. Gupta is one of them. It’s a drop in the ocean for the estimated 20-40 million people who need help overcoming their addiction. There are more than 100,000 healthcare providers in the country that include doctors, nurses, and physician assistants who have the necessary X- DEA credentials to treat opioid use disorders. But less than 20,000 are actively involved in dealing with the growing opioid epidemic in the country. This lack of access to a healthcare provider aggravates the problem leading to more deaths than recoveries. Meanwhile, the pandemic has not made things easier. There is excessive stress and limited counseling due to the shutdowns and prescriptions cannot be given on the phone without the necessary drug testing. This explains the rise in overdose deaths and addiction cases in the past nine months.

Apart from flawed policy, the American Society of Addiction states that every doctor who graduates from medical school is required to study addiction management. There are 179 medical schools and approximately 9000 residency programs in the country and not one of them teaches this course.  Moreover, addiction management is not considered on par with other areas of medical specialization and neither do insurance companies view addiction like other chronic diseases such as blood pressure or diabetes.

In 2002, the drug Buprenorphine was approved for addiction treatment and ten years later another drug Zubsolv made it to treatment plans. These drugs block the opioid receptors in the brain and reduce a person’s craving for the painkiller. Another ingredient in the drug, naloxone, reverses the effects of opioids. Together, they prevent withdrawal symptoms and deter the abuser from snorting or injecting it. Dr. Gupta pairs medication with counseling, and non-addictive medication in cases of insomnia or anxiety. Recovery takes anywhere from six weeks to six months depending on the severity of the addiction, but the struggle to remain clean continues for the rest of their lives.

With death rates from opioid misuse surging, more than 500 laws were enacted in the last 10 years against doctors, pill mills, and pharmaceutical companies to curb the problem but this has only exacerbated the issue. Addicts are now forced to go to the streets instead of visiting a doctor for treatment. Dr. Gupta notes that national autopsy results over the last 5 years consistently show that fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine are the first three drugs in more than 55% of the people with drug overdose deaths as opposed to prescription medication.

Over the past few years, Dr. Gupta has presented more than 150 talks to schools, doctors, healthcare systems, and social organizations like Rotary clubs and the Kiwanis Club to highlight the gravity of the problem and his message that addiction can be cured. He is talking to elected officials to leverage their influence and galvanize the government to rethink the limit of patients and allow greater access to people who want to overcome their addiction. 

Addiction, he warns, has become synonymous with a death sentence in this country.


Manu Shah is a freelance writer covering Indo American news.

Women at sunset

Step Into the New…You

Renewal: You and The World Around You

As I tuned into this topic, I became aware of the internal environment that is created because of the people in our lives and how we perceive ourselves in relation to them. Often keeping others comfortable becomes our comfort zone. Stepping out of it rocks the boat. As we step into this New Year, I invite you to step into the New You.

It is too long that you stayed in a shell to keep others comfortable.

There are some around you who have always loved you, with whom you are amazing and it is easy. You feel safe being yourself.

Then why walk on eggshells with everyone else? Why numb the goodness and brightness in you? 

Nobody realizes that you are simply trying to fit in. You value them too much, even more than yourself.  You are getting comfortable with that. In your mind, you are being nice to them. And yet often feel miserable. They are also getting used to that. Stop…just stop!

Look at those who really ‘see’ you. You seem to do everything right by them. Break the shell and crack it open. Do what it takes! It’s worth it!

They will find others who feed their comfort. Yes, give them a shock.

They will have to step up to understand you and cheer you in your growth. They will have to know your pain.

You in your truthfulness will mourn your perceived loss of some of them because you truly cared about them. That’s why you kept them comfortable while you suffered.

Yes, I know you also wronged some people. Those too will reach out to you or you to them, in your growth. Just know that you are not accountable to all of them this very minute, so don’t judge yourself too hard.

Go ahead take that step, a small change, break open, fly. The ones ready for growth will grow with you. Some will fall away, as you both cannot see eye to eye now.

Forgive yourself, forgive them, love yourself, love them, allow yourself to Be, allow them to Be. Trust me, it’s worth it. When you feel stuck and choose to wiggle out, it hurts, it’s worth it.

The ones who care for you and the ones you care for will have to accept you as you are today. Let them know you are one of them but be stronger on your own path.


Pragalbha Doshi lives with her husband and 2 teenage boys in San Jose, CA. As a yoga teacher, she facilitates therapy & change for people who struggle with chronic symptoms of stress, physical & emotional, and who want a productive & fulfilling life. 

The contents of this article first appeared on my personal blog Infinite Living on Jan 5, 2017. Find more inspiration in poetry and prose at the link.

Happiness- Zac Durant Photo

Can I Find Happiness?

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on health and wellbeing.

I believe I’m a reasonably happy person, whatever that means. Sure, I’ve had ups and downs and dealt with disappointment, failure, illness, stress, loss, grief, and death. Most of us have. In retrospect, however, I’ve been mostly satisfied and content, felt good about things and stayed positive. Is that happiness? I wasn’t certain I had a good answer – until now.

On the flip side, I clearly know when I’m not happy. I was not happy through my failures, in stressful situations, and when I lost loved ones. I’ve grieved. I’ve cried. I have felt alone. I was anything but happy then! We read and hear a lot about unhappiness these days. I often see people around me who clearly are not in a frame of mind that I would call happy. 

I thought about all this and began to ask: what is happiness? How does one become happy? Can one acquire happiness and stay happy? I’m here to share the results of my research and reflections with you.  

I began by looking up happiness in the dictionary.

“The state of being happy,” it read.

So much for dictionaries! The word ‘state’ in this definition was a clue, however. After some more reading, I concluded that we typically use the word happiness to describe a mental or emotional state that derives from our perception of our circumstances at any given time. We assign a value to that perception; when this value is positive, we are ‘pleased’.

Our feelings move into the spectrum of pleasant emotions, somewhere in the range from being satisfied or content, through a feeling of joy, to intense pleasure. By this definition, we can be happy one instant and unhappy the next. The change from a happy to unhappy state occurs at the speed at which our perception of our circumstance changes. Material gains fuel a feeling of happiness for a while but can soon feel hollow. Adding that second scoop of ice cream to my bowl satisfies my urge for dessert, and makes me happy until I think about its impact on my blood glucose level! We can be in a ‘state of happiness’ for a few fleeting moments until our perception alters.

While this conclusion is not very reassuring, we shouldn’t downplay the importance of this kind of happiness. It’s good in general to be in a positive or ‘happy’ state as often as we can, provided that state is not the result of misperceptions. We also need to understand this kind of happiness, and its role in the context that I describe next.

Another way in which we often use the word happiness is to describe something other than a transient emotion or state of mind; we use it in the context of our overall well-being.  This is a different ‘state’ of mind that relates to our assessment of where we are now, or where we are likely to be at some future point in our lives; we use the word in the context of our life satisfaction.  Happiness flows from a feeling of accomplishment. This subjective assessment of our state of life is central to driving our ‘state’ of happiness. By altering our assessment, we can arrive at a different conclusion.  

Does that mean that we can choose to be happy? A choice made by adopting a different view or perspective of our circumstances?

Book: The How of Happiness
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

A review of scientific studies provided further clues. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Distinguished Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Psychology at UC Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, is a leading authority on this subject. She has studied happiness, and how and why it can shift over time. While happiness is defined in different ways for different people, she says, it is “a combination of frequent positive emotions, plus the sense that your life is good.

Geneticists and neuroscientists have shown that genetics and heredity play some role in determining “baseline happiness” and subjective wellbeing.  For instance, around 50% of cases of major depression are attributed to genetic causes, while the rest stem from psychological or physical factors. The general consensus in the scientific community is that your happiness is only partially determined by your genes; most of it comes down to lifestyle and other environmental factors that you can control.

What are the factors and how do you control them?

A branch of psychology known as Positive Psychology provides answers. Coined by University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Martin Seligman, one of the influential thinkers in this area, Positive Psychology studies the character strengths and behaviors that allow individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond just surviving to flourishing.  Researchers have identified several key ‘elements’ of a good life and practices for improved life satisfaction, wellbeing, and happiness: build healthy relationships and learn to express your thoughts and feelings. Cultivate kindness. Exercise regularly and adopt a healthy diet. Do what you like doing and pursue a goal – find your ‘flow.’ Discover spiritual engagement and find meaning in life. Identify and use your strengths.  Adopt a positive mindset: be optimistic, practice mindfulness, practice gratitude. Learn to forgive. Get involved in community and service.

Happiness is not a goal; it’s a life-long process that is in our control.

Happiness takes work,” says Professor Laurie Santos, Head of Silliman College at Yale, “You don’t just hear about the science of happiness and instantly feel better. You have to change your behavior. It takes effort every day.”

The quest for happiness dates back more than 2500 years to Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and others. In his fascinating book Hiding in Unnatural Happiness, Devamitra Swami points to the teachings of the Srimad-Bhagavatam that happiness “comes to the completely enlightened, self-realized soul.” Today’s scientists are rediscovering much the same insights!

If we look outward in our quest for happiness, we are looking in the wrong place. We will find lasting happiness only if we seek it within ourselves!


Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. He is also a columnist for India Currents.

With sincere thanks to Zac Durant at Unsplash for the use of his beautiful photograph.

Kartikaye Mittal

Indian American Devises Collapsible Chamber to Manage Panic Attacks

An Indian American has designed and fabricated a sanctuary that one can retreat into during moments of panic, in a bid to address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a widespread condition in America and the world over. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition, can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. It could cause significant issues in the social life of a person and interfere with the ability to perform daily tasks.

Mittal's Reboot, a collapsible PTSD chamber.
Mittal’s Reboot, a collapsible PTSD chamber.

Kartikaye Mittal, 32, who holds a master’s degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in New York, has created the prototype called Reboot, employing his knowledge of design and engineering, and combining it with his research in psychotherapy and wellness, according to a statement issued on Monday.

Reboot is a collapsible chamber that can be used by survivors of PTSD in moments of panic and is intended to be installed in university campuses, hospitals, airports, malls, and other crowded places. The chamber alters sensory stimuli and creates an environment in which the person can manage one’s emotions without disturbance, distraction or aggravation. It gives the user a personal space to retreat into when needed, to practice the therapeutic exercise prescribed by his or her therapist, to meditate, or just be, it said.

Kartikaye visited PTSD support groups in New York City and consulted psychotherapists as part of his research for Reboot. He discovered that in a trauma-survivor, panic may be triggered at any point in time, especially when in a public place, where one doesn’t have immediate access to his or her therapist. The drive to empower the user made him build several models, experimenting with material, size, shape, and color.

The telescoped space is 5 feet wide, 7.5 feet high, and depth extendable to 4 feet. The chamber collapses to merely 15 inches and can be instantly extended when necessary. The internal surface is designed to absorb sound, the statement said. The primary objectives of this space are dampening the noise from the surrounding environment, spatial comfort, collapsibility, and adaptability to available space in the buildings.

With inputs from clinical psychologists, Mittal was able to keep the look and feel of the structure benign and non-evocative. Neutral grey was the overall color chosen for a muted look. Reboot is Phase 1 of Kartikaye’s initiative to create an aid for trauma survivors. Phase 2 is scheduled to commence soon under his STEAMplant residency at Pratt’s Math & Science department.


Lalit K Jha is the Chief US Correspondent for Press Trust of India (PTI), the largest news agency of India subscribed by over 500 newspapers as well as scores of TV channels and radio stations. Based in the Washington D.C. Metro Area, Lalit extensively covers the White House, the State Department, and US Congress from an Indian perspective, besides writing about Indian Americans.

This article was first published here and has been republished with the permission of the Author.

Communication in Desi Households

Desi Talk – A column that works on embracing our brown background and unique identity using Coach Yashu’s helpful tips. Find her talking to IC Editor, Srishti Prabha on Instagram LIVE Tuesdays at 6pm PST/ 9pm EST!

Recently I saw a post that seemed like a cry for help and reminded me of the need for a Desi Mental Health Community.

We need to be a Desi Resource for one another and because we are the only people who can understand the implications of desi culture, lifestyle, and health. 

I want to let people know…Yashu is here! I know how challenging being desi can be.

Tip 1: Most conflicts within desi households revolve around communication style.

In the end, it’s necessary to remember that the most important person is YOU and you must protect your energy, whether you are the parent or the child. Sometimes protecting yourself can feel like an impossible task, so you have to break past the cultural guilt and learn to redesign your relationships and communication styles. YES, it does work!

This is a very real issue, but one that has a resolution!

Oftentimes, children may feel shut out or denied their feelings. As a result, they stress themselves out trying to convince their desi families to listen and not dismiss them. But how many of us have truly had luck with that? Where we just talk it out and the parents just get it? Explaining the same thing, over and over again, can be discouraging and even hurtful. 

Now, all you desi kids, You must remember that when the other person, be it a sibling, or a parent,  is not ready to receive you, there is no point in imposing your thoughts on the other person; investing energy on convincing a parent who is not open to hearing you is meaningless. This can ultimately lead to giving up on our dreams or even worse, shutting ourselves off to our parents. 

And if you are a parent, even if your child is making a mistake or doing something you do not agree with, allow your child the space to express and then have a respectful conversation – allowing your child to come to a space of realization or find where their thinking was not thorough. At that point, if your child refuses to listen, you may try again but if they are not in a space to listen, let it go. Because desi families are protective, and it is in our culture to be closely knit, make yourself available to your child so that you are a resource and a safe space. 

To all my desi kids out there, I hope this helps! Slip this article on the living room table, where your parents sit to have their afternoon chai (Don’t forget to act all casual about it). 

Parents, see if this helps you become even closer with your children and create more beautiful memories with your family!


Yashu Rao is the first South Indian-American plus-size model and doubles as a Confidence Coach. She is the Founder of #HappyYashu, a Confidence and Lifestyle Coaching Service, specializing in desi family structures. She’s here breaking down stereotypes and beauty standards as well as inspiring and empowering people to lead a life with self-love, confidence, and genuine happiness. Find her on Instagram giving tips and modeling.

Fitness: A Forgotten Remedy

An anonymous author once wrote: “We are living in an era where capturing moments using our phone is more important than actually living the moment with whoever is beside us.”

Last year, in 2019, this quote rang true, where everyone was glued to their devices by choice, not necessity. As the pandemic rages on, our paradigms have continued to shift, forcing us to socialize virtually. If we shut away our screens, we become truly isolated. Isolation brings depression along with lethargy. As more people become glued to screens, health and fitness drop and, in some cases, to dangerously low levels.  

Fitness – the backbone of a strong lifestyle – helps us de-stress and stay healthy and happy, while allowing us to take a much needed break from our screens. But as this dangerous pandemic has engulfed us, the lockdown has constrained most to our homes. CNBC and Psychology Today found that nationally, people have become less active and sleeping more. Within one month of lockdown, the average activity level dropped 48%, while people are sleeping 20% more.

After the national emergency lockdown in March, the national average of those reporting anxiety increased from 29% to 49%, largely due to the restrictions on activities and the health scares. Physical activity reduces temporary and long-term diagnosed and undiagnosed anxiety and increases neutrophils and natural killer cells which protect the body from viruses such as COVID-19. Regular exercise can also indirectly reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome and other respiratory problems that are prevalent with many who have contracted COVID-19. There is no doubt that staying fit is the best way to shield ourselves from both physical and mental health issues, which bolsters our immunity and helps fight against dangerous infections and diseases. 

During these past six months since lockdown, it has become abundantly clear that fitness, or the lack thereof, has become a major issue. It may seem like a mystery that the national average for activity levels has decreased during this period, even though many people claim “to have started working out.” This can be explained rather easily by the types of exercise most are pursuing under lockdown: unsteady vs. regular. Regular fitness is categorized as vigorous repetitive exercise of 75 minutes to 150 minutes per week over several weeks, as described by Mayo Clinic. Unsteady exercise, on the other hand, while may still be rigorous, does not occur repeatedly enough to cause a noticeable improvement in fitness.

Many of us have tried to adapt to the rising virtual fitness world, turning to virtual products of at-home workouts and exercise, says Fortune. But staying committed to a routine without external support is difficult over a long period of time. Families have eagerly scheduled activity times, such as hiking, family walks, and beach days, but these activities are not defined as rigorous, repetitive exercise, leading to the major misconception that people are becoming more active. Since regular exercise is mandatory to maintain a calm composure, release stress, protect against viruses, and remain focused and alert, we must find a way to bring fitness back to our society.

The proven method to create and manage an exercise routine is to create a planned extensive workout schedule with someone and work together to hold each other accountable. When it comes to your health, never leave anything to chance, so plan out your approach, and take guidance from experts to design the best and safest exercise routine for you. Each individual is unique in their strengths, abilities, and flexibility, so a routine designed around you is best. I personally started with scheduled Zoom workouts with my friends, focusing on building muscles and staying healthy. I joined virtual sports classes for youth and committed to attending them each time. My top sport is Taekwondo and I have incorporated at least one hour of virtual learning and teaching each day of the week. 

In March, I began my own virtual fitness and martial arts classes, mostly for family and close friends. In just a couple of months, I realized the amazing progress my students had made with their martial art learning and overall fitness and health. They had matured in discipline and perseverance. Encouraged, and realizing the benefit my classes provided, I formally started a non-profit on the premise of spreading fitness and martial arts training to youth virtually. The free classes teach general fitness, self-defense, and confidence. Fit4Grit Academy now has nearly 10 instructors instructing over 35 students. We also have multiple partnerships with national non-profits, youth-employment/development organizations, and martial art and fitness academies. We are working to expand nationwide, and globally. Fit4Grit focuses on fitness by teaching students the most effective ways to exercise in a safe environment with commitment, rigor, and discipline. The foundational values of fitness taught in Fit4Grit can translate to creating a healthy lifestyle for the long haul.

With the uncertainty around us, it is important to take care of our health and that of our loved ones. Fitness provides the most benefits to anyone of any age, anywhere. Take your time to understand your body and your needs and prioritize your health, even if it means picking up that electronic device and joining a virtual fitness class.

Let Fit4Grit Academy help you. Try out a class and plan your fitness schedule in the comfort of your home. If you have questions or would like to discuss your fitness needs, feel free to reach out to me, Adarsh Gupta, at fit4grit.adarsh@gmail.com.

 


Adarsh Gupta, a sophomore at Saint Francis High School, a 2nd Degree Martial Art Black Belt, a competitive golfer, and the Founder of Fit4Grit Academy. He loves to be surrounded by fitness but also enjoys relaxing by playing guitar and gardening.

Teenagers Use Technology to Fight Dementia

Brainy Haven is a nonprofit created by high school students from Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its founders, Raayan Brar, Darron King, and Siddharth Jha, worked collaboratively on the initiative after realizing the lack of online resources for not just the elderly, but specifically those with dementia-related illnesses.

“In the modern world we live in, using technology to better those around us is our obligation,” says Jha. “At Brainy Haven, our team hopes to serve those with dementia-related illness by aiding their process, which can be terrifying for many families.”

Brainy Haven aims to assist those with memory through the use of technological resources. Their website contains an assortment of puzzles and brain teasers for dementia patients to use, ranging from patterns to a fully functional memory game. Having already sent it out to many nursing homes, the team at Brainy Haven has received positive feedback from users.

However, wanting to do more, the three contacted a team at the University of Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center to receive feedback on structure and implementation. “I had known the Alzheimer’s Center’s Director, Dr. Henry Paulson, from past events so it seemed like he’d be the perfect person to reach out to for help,” King explained, “Dr. Paulson kindly introduced us to a group of people with diverse skill sets working at the Center and they gave us some detailed, brilliant feedback.”

In addition to Brainy Haven’s carefully crafted program, users can find important information regarding dementia-related illnesses and their impact on the brain. The team was astonished to see the sheer number of people affected by dementia and they hope that through Brainy Haven, those who are lucky enough to not have been afflicted with dementia can take a few moments to educate themselves on what dementia really is and its effects on their communities.

Brar remembers reading an article from the Hindustan Times and being shocked at how many Indians that are personally affected by this devastating issue.  “Helping the community during difficult times is an amazing thing to do,” Brar says, “I have always wanted to better society, and what we did is something so simple, but I do believe that it can help the lives of our seniors.” The trio is proud of the work that they had done, and now they want teenagers all around the world to do something similar and help benefit their community in some small way.

Sticking to their roots in India, Jha and Brar plan on sending out customized programs to homes in India. Both having had family affected by dementia-related illnesses, the two are aiming to help those suffering in their ancestral lands. “After talking to family members and visiting India numerous times as I child, I hope to be able to give back to the people of Bihar and others who have not been blessed with the same opportunities as myself,” says Jha. “Brainy Haven is the first step to accomplishing that goal.”


Siddharth Jha hopes to change the world and solve global problems through management and technology. When he is not coding, Sid can often be found playing a game of chess or partaking in any other strategic activity.

Raayan Brar passion in life comes from the joy of teaching others and helping the community. As a teacher at various student programs, Raayan knows and enjoys the true value of critical thinking.

Darron King is planning to pursue a career in the field of neuroscience and psychology in his future endeavors. He is interested in learning about the endless capabilities of the human brain and is excited about the future of neurology.