Tag Archives: suicide

The Serenity Project Transforms Pain

Serene Singh is a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford completing her postgraduate studies in Public Policy but it is her work outside of academics that initially inspired her. As former America’s Junior Miss and Miss Colorado Teen, her pageantry and modeling experience created a space for her to empower women worldwide. She created The Serenity Project nonprofit to give confidence and self-love tools, improve, and provide access and opportunity to at-risk women.

The Serenity Project was founded in 2016 after Serene lost a best friend, a survivor of violence, to suicide.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for at-risk women in the U.S., womxn who unduly battle body dysmorphia. While working in the US Senate on violence, trafficking, and rape policies she noticed womxn survivors were never in-charge of the settings where changes impacting survivors were created. Serene dreamt of empowering survivors to dream again. In the face of a culture of mental health stigmatization, societal shaming of survivors, and a lack of tools for at-risk womxn to gain confidence, Serene’s vision to support and empower women has made waves and had an impact spanning across the United States and reaching hundreds of womxn. Previous project participants include (but are not limited to) survivors of domestic violence, attempted suicides, PTSD, human trafficking, etc.

Empowering womxn survivors to transform their pain into their power is what The Serenity Project is about.  

The Serenity Project empowers “at-risk” womxn by challenging 1) unhealthy beauty standards 2) the rising number of suicide attempts and 3) the lack of support, tools, and skills survivors receive to grow through the trauma they have gone through. 

The Serenity Project begins with a 10-15 at-risk womxn to participate in a kick-off fashion show (featured in the Documentary) followed by a 12-month curriculum called the Soaring Curriculum, alongside a globally-based mentorship program. The curriculum builds skills (i.e. self-compassion, meditation, public speaking) while womxn mentors from around the globe are able to serve as mentors and support survivors to develop passion projects that help the womxn pay their experiences forward and invest in their dreams.

The Serenity Project’s recent release of The Serenity Project documentary captures the very first year of the project lifting off the ground. The visceral impact of witnessing womxn gaining confidence and unapologetically being their true selves touched everyone’s heart. The Live Zoom event followed by the Youtube Premiering of the Documentary brought tears to the eyes of many viewers who were survivors themselves. 

Serene Singh states, “There is nothing more powerful and inspiring than a woman who discovers her wings and uses them to build herself up and bring others with her too. That is what this nonprofit is all about.” 

For more information or inquiries, visit their website or email theserenityprojectofficial@gmail.com


An IIT Survivor Reviews Chhichhore

(Spoiler Alert)

Overall an entertainer and downright hilarious in parts, Chhichhore is worthy of a watch! It also attempts to tackle an important contemporary issue among young students in India. Not sure a big screen experience is necessary however, so waiting for it to show up on your favorite streaming service is just fine. The movie (the word means frivolous, and mostly applies to boys or young men in this context) is about a group of engineering students at a residential college in India. While not explicitly mentioned, it clearly refers to life in IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) and the film is even shot on the IIT Bombay campus in Mumbai. The depiction of student life at IIT is the best part of the film. The friendship, the “ragging”, the humor, the argument brought back some wonderful memories of that time. The bonds that students form there–probably true of any residential college—are lifelong; and they do stand the test of life and time. The nicknames given to students is a rich tradition followed in almost every hostel. So Bevdaa (drunk), Sexa (horny), Mummy (mama’s boy), etcetera were all too real and part of the hilarity of the film. The best of the film lies in the situations these characters find themselves in. The abject number of women students at the college as shown in the film is also very real—there are too few and they live a fish-bowl existence, adding to the general lunacy of the high pressure environment.

What did not ring true (for me) about that life, were a couple of aspects—firstly, the nastiness of the inter-hostel rivalry. IITians are competitive but it almost never devolves into a mean-spirited match bordering on the threat of violence. Admittedly, my experience of IIT is over 30 years old when there were only five such institutions and now I believe there are twenty plus so perhaps such antagonistic competition is more common. The other aspect that was completely off was that this group of thick friends did not stay in touch after college. That just does not happen. Maybe a couple of people fall off the face of the earth, and that too usually temporarily, but enduring friendships is a fundamental and fortuitous feature of life in IIT.

The biggest issue with the film had little to do with life in IIT—although I couldn’t help but notice that the hostels are in better shape (yes!) than in real life. In fact at our 25th reunion, the hostels looked like they had not even been whitewashed in the 25 years! But I digress. The weakest link in the story was the meta story in which the son of the main protagonists played by Sushant Singh Rajput and Shraddha Kapoor, attempts to commit suicide by jumping off a tall building when he finds out that he did not make it through the entrance exam to the IITs. This tragedy is very real—every year numerous students attempt suicide before, during and after various entrance exams and many even after they have been accepted to colleges that are perceived to be prestigious. The pressure to get in and to perform once in, is simply ridiculous. I think almost every IIT-ian knows of at least one person who attempted suicide in their time. From that perspective shining a light on this issue is laudatory. It is a message film but it’s just not very well executed. The first big issue is that Sushant Singh Rajput is a very limited actor. In every scene where he is crying, it sounds like he is whimpering. It is hard to sympathize with him. And Shraddha Kapoor who is typically limited as well, actually does a little better because Rajput in contrast is worse.

The suicide storyline unfortunately pulls too many punches. Firstly, the build up to the suicide is just not there. Showing how the kid is driven to it due to peer, or parents’ or self-imposed pressure is missing. Ultimately there is a vague admission that it was the parents who played an unwitting role in the tragedy. And the suicide attempt is just not as shocking as it should have been. The fact that the parents are clueless about the dire state of the kid’s mind does not come across sufficiently; and if they are supposed to be clueless, then their shock is not depicted well. The progression of their reaction from disbelief to shock to grief is poorly handled. This is the core message of the film and it falls flat. Finally the convenient recovery of the child without as much as any lingering brain damage is not believable. You have to simply dismiss it as a typically Bollywood happy ending.

Overall, the message that one failure does not define you, and that parents owe it to their kids to ensure that they understand this, is worthy of commendation. But the film falls short. This is even more glaring because Nitesh Tiwari has written and directed much better films such as Dangal (2016) and Chillar Party (2011). Overall I still give Chhichhore a measured thumbs up perhaps out of sheer gratitude that message films of Sooraj Barjatya fame, with their regressive directives especially for women, are a thing of the past!

CHHICHHORE. 2019. Director: Nitesh Tiwari. Written by: Nitesh Tiwari, Piyush Gupta, Nikhil Mehrotra. Players: Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor, Varun Sharma. Hindi with subtitles. Distributed by Fox Star Studios.

Reena is a tech product consultant in Silicon Valley by day, and a poet and photographer somewhere in between. She graduated with a B.Tech in Engineering from IIT Delhi. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, and one human and two canine children.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

Cover photo credit: Chhichhore facebook page.

#RIP @Parts Unknown.


noun sui·cide \ ˈsü-ə-ˌsīd \

Merriam-Webster definition:  : “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally”

I woke up to Anthony Bourdain’s death headlining CNN on Friday morning – June 8th, 2018. There was a dull thud in my heart and total silence enveloping my mind. No, I did not know Mr. Bourdain personally. Neither was I on a first name basis with Kate Spade… nor with Robin Williams. But my reaction to the news stories of their deaths was a sense of stunned shock.

With each story came a sense of dread which followed closely on the heels of the initial shock that I had felt. A deep sadness spread, slowly staining my emotions in a very palpable sense.  And through it I saw the pattern that bound these talented, bright, amazing individuals… in the brilliance of their abilities – in lives lived in the spotlight, of fame and fortune, and in their sudden – decimating – definite ending. 

Death in any form has a finality to it, no doubt. It remains one of the absolute truths of existence, just as Birth is. The human experience seems primed to engage in the happy prospect of ‘Beginnings,’ while instinctively unwilling to face up to ‘Endings.’  But face it – we must, at some time or another. The act of inflicting harm upon oneself, trying to or successfully managing to take one’s own life – has the power to shake our belief in all that is enduring and good. It also leaves heartache and shatters the lives of loved ones in its wake. 

The dictionary labels the word “Suicide” as a ‘noun.’ When translated into a ‘verb,’ it takes on a violent and malignant form, which has been described in many ways. An act of cowardice. A rejection of the Divine gift of Life. The worst form of ‘Himsa’ or violence. Each of our world’s major religions, varied as their language may be, agree in this unflinching belief, and condemn the taking of one’s own life. 

Human beings in the course of their evolution have a ‘Fight or Flight’ instinct hardwired into their DNA. I can imagine desperation and extreme helplessness in someone considering such an act. But I do not see cowardice. To me, it seems to require strength of a different kind to be able to carry out an act that goes against a basic human instinct to safeguard, and protect ourselves. And yet, some of us manage to do it. Why? 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has staggering statistics on the number of suicides globally. Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year.  This number is difficult to comprehend! It means one person every 40 seconds takes their own life!  The numbers further state that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. Not to speak of the number of children and young adults who have been in the news in India and elsewhere recently. Apart from social, economic and political causes that drive such sad ‘trends,’ like the farmers in India for example, there is a common underlying reason – Psychological.

What is it that prevents individuals who seem otherwise well adjusted, from seeking out psychological help when in obvious distress? I am aware that we do not go through life with the number for a helpline keyed into our speed dials. I also know that for most of us the knee-jerk response to “How are you doing?”, is “Great!”.  But I struggle to understand how in this age of information, of smartphones; people can find themselves so isolated and helpless that the only option is for them to end it all – by making that ultimate, unthinkable choice. 

Or is the truth pointing in the other direction? Has their cry for help gone unheard and unnoticed? Or could they have lacked the awareness as to where to seek help?

South Asian Cultural Context: 

There might be a cultural quotient to this as well. And that bears examining. To my mind, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Robin Williams belonged to a culture where seeking therapy and counseling for their mental or physical ills is accepted for the most part – but they still became part of this dark statistic. What about the South Asian context, where even in this day and age, there exists a stigma associated with certain realities? Where openly discussing or admitting to illness like cancer or Parkinson’s, let alone mental illness – is still considered off-limits – a taboo?

Dr. Bindu Garapaty, Psyd. in Clinical Psychology, is focussed on empowering the mental health of women in the South Asian community (S.F Bay Area) through health consultancy, and advocacy. She cites a lack of awareness as the key ingredient which leads to the perpetuation of unconscious taboos / stigma, prevalent within the S.Asian community. This, coupled with a lack in the numbers of mental health providers who are sensitive to cultural differences, creates a gap that seems too wide to bridge. She calls for a ‘movement of solidarity’, to help change the dialog within the community.

Ulash Thakore-Dunlap, is Asst. Professor in the MA Counseling Psychology Program at the Wright Institute, Berkeley and is engaged in clinical practice in San Francisco. She is also the first South Asian to hold a seat as Co-Chair on the Mental Health Board of San Francisco. Through her counseling practice and by serving as advisor in various organizations, Ulash has been instrumental in creating advocacy and visibility for S.Asian mental health professionals and clinical needs.

Ulash admits that there is shame and stigma within some S.Asian community members in seeking mental health support. They generally feel much more comfortable seeing their primary care provider, but face barriers – personal and family related – in receiving counseling. Some have also shared that they have had negative experiences finding a good cultural fit in the counselors they sought out, which led them to not seek counseling again.

The Annual South Asian Mental Health Conference organized by Drs. Preet Kaur Sabharwal and Nina Kaur has been valuable in bringing providers and community members together interested in learning about South Asian mental health needs, sharing best practices and advocacy work. The conference is in its third year and will be taking place in November 2018 in Fremont, California.

More importantly,  Ulash brings to light a bias from non-South Asian providers that all our community members are affluent and working in the tech industry; despite the fact that we have many members who do not fit this media stereotype. She calls for more awareness from the mental health care providers, in terms of the diversity within the S.Asian community, relating to language, culture, personal experiences, immigration experience and choice of work. But she is encouraged by some great efforts, by individuals and organizations in the S.F Bay Area to increase visibility of S. Asian mental health needs.

Parijat Deshpande, therapist, speaker, advocate – and founder of MySahana.orgis one such individual. Parijat started the organization in 2010, while still in the middle of graduate training in Clinical Psychology. She realized there was a tremendous gap in terms of applying the tools that she was learning as part of her training towards helping members within her own community. “Our family values and the way we are brought up is significantly different,” she says.  Even in cases where they do seek mental help, cultural taboos prevent South Asians from going the whole way in finishing treatment. She further adds that they have the highest dropout rate with therapy, and the lowest awareness in terms of finding help.

Parijat highlighted an important fact, “In all of India’s many languages, there is no specific word for mental illness – except ‘crazy!’ This brings about an inherent language bias, along with judgements and stigma.” She started MySahana.org mainly to help educate, provide outreach services and help connect the South Asian community to the right mental health service providers. In 2016, they started an online South Asian cultural competency training program for Non South Asian clinicians, providing much-needed resources for those that have little understanding of the cultural needs of their clients.

Young adults (late teens to late 20s), form the most “at risk” age group for depression, in the S.F Bay Area’s South Asian community. Parijat cites the cultural paradigm of straddling and navigating two separate cultures as being the main challenge for this age group, in the Bay Area. In addition, there is tremendous academic pressure which leads to a myopic view of life, where self-worth becomes determined by academic success. “The problem mounts until it compounds into a pressure cooker of sorts,” she says.

Typically, parents of teenage kids contact MySahana looking for referrals and resources. Young adults in the 20- year age bracket do not seek out help themselves, but people in their 30s do so occasionally. The typical 40+ year old will call with concerns regarding aging parents. The majority of calls come from women in their 50s – “empty nesters” who recognize signs of depression, and experience a severe loss of identity.

MySahana.org does not provide therapy. But they fulfill the community’s need to provide better access to appropriate services. They are always looking for volunteers across the country. Through their outreach events, they hope to reach a wider audience and foster much needed awareness.

When Robin Williams’ death hit the news feed in August 2014, I remember experiencing the same mind-numbing shock. The words of a song, a classic Jagjit and Chitra Singh ghazal floated through my mind, “Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho, Kya Gham Hai Jisko Chupa Rahe Ho”“You seem to be smiling thus, What sorrows might you be hiding behind it?” It seemed a fitting musical eulogy for a remarkable human being, who made the whole world laugh, while apparently hiding his own pain behind a veil of hilarity.

As we pay tribute to the man, the author, the traveler, the entertainer – who called himself Anthony Bourdain, we must also remember the “plain talking” power of his words.  “As you move through this life and this world, you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”  

We wish you peace Mr. Bourdain, as you move on to explore – Parts Unknown.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

  • Get trained in identifying and supporting people at risk. Question. Persuade. Refer (QPR) is a FREE online or in-person suicide prevention training, available to anyone 18 years of age or older who lives or works in Santa Clara County. This training covers the myths and facts related to suicide, warning signs of suicide, how to ask Questions, how to Persuade someone in crisis to seek help, and to Refer them to resources. This and other trainings can be found at www.sccbhsd.org/suicideprevention.
  • Know the signs. Every day in California, friends, family and co-workers struggle with emotional pain. And, for some, it’s too difficult to talk about the pain, thoughts of suicide, and the need for help. Though the warning signs can be subtle, they are there. By recognizing these signs, and knowing how to start a conversation and where to turn for help, you have the power to make a difference – the power to save a life. Go towww.suicideispreventable.org.
  • Encourage family and friends in crisis or thinking about suicide to make use of mental health resources.

Santa Clara County Suicide and Crisis Hotline


Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally here in California.



The Valley Opens in Select Theaters June 8th!

When affluent Silicon Valley entrepreneur Neal Kumar’s beautiful, sensitive daughter, Maya, tragically commits suicide during her freshman year of college, no one seems to know why. In his frantic quest to find the truth – and as his seemingly idyllic life and family begins to unravel – Neal discovers many things  about himself and his own choices.

Tickets: www.bit.ly/thevalleysanfran