Students gathered in Angell Hall on Wednesday to engage in a conversation about the stigma associated with mental health on campus.
Hosted by the Indian American Student Association in partnership with The Program on Intergroup Relations, “Mind Your Mind: Breaking the Silence about Mental Health” was designed to reach out to students in a relaxed and informative environment about their options concerning treatment for mental health.
The target audience was students of South Asian descent, who organizers said are considered among the least likely to seek help for mental health concerns.
Psychiatrist Bela Shah talked to students about the medical aspects to mental health. Shah drew upon her experiences both as a parent of an Indian-American student, as well as her 21 years as a therapist working with college students.
The first case Shah presented to the group was a freshman who struggled with clinical depression. She said both the lack of a familial structure during college and the freedoms of a college campus prompted her patient’s symptoms to surface during her first year.
“Many times you don’t realize — you come out into campus and you like the freedom and independence from your parents,” Shah said. “High school and your parents provided a lot of structure, they really kept you in a bubble. So it’s very hard to come out of that — liberating, also, but there is also a lot of pressure that comes with that experience.”
Shah added that while students can put a lot of pressure on themselves, the majority of the pressure in the case study she discussed came from the student’s community.
“It was always put into her mind — you should be in medicine, be a good student, everyone wants her to be a doctor,” Shah said.
She also touched on specific difficulties faced by second-generation South Asian students, whom she referred to as the “coconut generation”.
“You look brown, but you think white,” she said.
According to Shah, the pressure of complying with mainstream society versus maintaining the culture at home is the largest source of stress for students in that group.
“There’s shame and guilt associated with mental disorders, and feelings of weakness,” she said.
Shah added that mental health is just one of three main issues involving young adults that are not culturally acceptable to discuss within the South Asian communities, as well as assault and addiction.
The second part of the conference was led by Intergroup Relations. During their workshop, the group members facilitated dialogues through games and individual group discussions, which were designed to allow students to talk about the source of their stress and anxiety they experience at the University.
The perceived social status of success maintained by parents was a common barrier discussed by students, along with fear of disappointing their parents.
“They hold us to a certain standard of excellence we struggle to meet,” LSA junior Anuraag Parchuri said.
Another recurring theme of the discussion was the pressure students felt they put on themselves beyond the pressures of school, parental expectation and the rigor of college life.
LSA sophomore Juhi Patel, who co-coordinated the event, spoke about her experiences with depression and how that influenced her participation in the event.
“Our parents don’t consider mental health in that category of health concerns,” she said. “With my parents, I did eventually end up telling them, but it was for insurance reasons.”
For Business sophomore Aditya Achanta, the event was successful because it gave students an opportunity to dialogue with peers of a similar cultural background.
“We are more of a community than a student organization, and an event like this would make a real difference,” he said. “The event went so well because we knew each other personally. It was an interesting experience.”