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TalkTime: Lending a Helping Hand

By Poornima Apte; Photos by Rey Lopez Email By Poornima Apte; Photos by Rey Lopez
October 2017
TalkTime: Lending a Helping Hand


Parijat Deshpande developed MySahana, a virtual platform that allows South Asians to get access to culturally sensitive information on mental health issues—and also provides mental health providers with training on how to work with the South Asian community.

Parijat Deshpande, born and brought up in the San Francisco Bay Area, did an undergraduate degree in psychology. When people from the South Asian community started talking to her about their personal challenges, she became intrigued and decided to pursue the subject further in graduate school. Then she came up with MySahana. In discussing her initiative, Despande mentions the obstacles that lie ahead and the surprising things she has learned along the way.

You did your graduate studies in clinical psychology. Did you find that helped you gain the support of the South Asian community enough to open up about their problems?
I naively thought that by just being South Asian— as a clinician—that would be enough to drive the South Asian community to come seek support, and that didn’t happen. So I became very interested as to why. What is the barrier that keeps people from reaching out for help?

There’s absolutely a stigma in the South Asian community, but it’s not necessarily what we would think. Definitely, there is this idea that it’s shameful or we don’t talk about stuff outside of our families, but there’s also just not enough education and information about what mental health even is. There’s literally no word in any of the South Asian languages that describes mental health or any of the mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. The words are actually translated to have a negative connotation, so that was really interesting to me.

The flip side, which I also wasn’t expecting to find, is that as I trained in clinical psychology, I realized that the way that clinicians are trained is not conducive to making somebody in the South Asian community feel very comfortable, and so there’s a huge disconnect between the mental health community and the South Asian community, and that’s why I started my MySahana to bridge that gap.

How does it work?
MySahana is a purely virtual organization, and so we provide our services mostly virtually. We don’t provide counseling services or therapy. We offer a membership program where they can get access to culturally sensitive information. Within that membership community, we offer webinars and online seminars for people to access or to ask questions and get more information, to really educate themselves on what the next step in their health journey should be, whether it’s to see a therapist or a psychiatrist, and get information and tools on how they can live a healthier life. Topics range from parenting to marriage to stress, a wide range that we address in a culturally sensitive manner.

Just last year, we launched the very first South Asian-specific cultural competency training for mental health providers to close that gap…that’s just not being addressed in graduate programs anywhere…of how to work specifically with the South Asian community. We’re building a roster of South Asian-trained clinicians. We’re giving them the title “MySahana Trained Level 1 Clinicians,” which basically means they’ve gone through our training and have a basic understanding of South Asian cultural background and values, so people can then choose them as a clinician more confidently.

Is that training already in place?
It is. It’s also virtual and clinicians can sign up at any point. It’s a self-paced course with access to a bunch of resources that we put together.

How about outreach? Very often, in this kind of situation, getting to that final person who needs help is a challenge. How do you manage that?
In the Bay Area, we’ve partnered with the South Asian Heart Center and Palo Alto Medical Foundation, who both have a very strong mission in helping create a healthier South Asian community. What we find is that a lot of times, because of the lack of education, many South Asians end up calling us for a referral—to clinicians, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists—when they’re on their last leg. They’re desperate. Obviously, we do make the referral accordingly, but our mission and our vision is to address these issues as early as possible. Plant the seed, help people understand what mental health is, and do that from an educational perspective, so that when and if a situation like that arises in anybody’s life, they’re able to know ahead of time exactly what steps to take before it becomes a desperate situation.




Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor. Learn more at WordCumulus.WordPress.com.

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