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New mental health campaign to ask ‘How are you, really?’ to South Asian Calgarians

Asking how a person is, can far too often be small-talk as opposed to a question posed to elicit a thought out, intentional answer.

For Punjabi Community Health Services (PCHS), asking “how are you, really,” is the start of a larger conversation around mental health in Calgary’s South Asian community.

“It’s to encourage honest conversations within the South Asian community, to de-stigmatize mental health, and have conversations about well-being and mental health,” said PCHS Executive Director Nina Saini.

The organization is launching the campaign with an event, beginning on Jan. 24 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Genesis Centre. Attending is free, and people can sign up through the PCHS website at www.pchscalgary.com.

January’s event will include a campaign video, a keynote speech by Calgary-based family physician Dr. Gaganjot Sandhu, a presentation by PCHS about mental health and counselling, networking opportunities, and a light lunch.

PCHS will also be holding an additional three forums at later dates on specific community-focused mental health issues, like domestic and gender-based violence, intergenerational trauma, and family dynamics.

Providing culturally appropriate mental health support

A large focus of the campaign will be helping members of Calgary’s South Asian community have better access to culturally appropriate mental health services.

“It’s different norms and traditions—being mindful of that is really important in counselling because the conversations don’t sound the same. They don’t sound the same, first of all, in language, which is a factor when seeking support. And also in the framework of understanding those norms that are specific to the community,” Saini said.

“Understanding there are gender differences, there are different traditional mindsets, and in a lot of these multi-generational households. There’s a lot of different factors for each ethno-specific community.”

Close to 40,000 Calgarians speak Punjabi at home as their primary language.

Within Calgary, the South Asian community makes up about 10 per cent of the entire population. Servicing the needs of the large and growing community, said Saini, isn’t about privilege. It’s about access to an essential service in the same way that’s provided to the general population.

Another focus is on helping members of the South Asian community come to understand that mental health is just as important as physical health.

“We believe that mental health is just as important as physical health, and it is time for us to prioritize it as such,” said PCHS counselor Sajjad Mahmood.

“There also needs to be community safety for people to feel like they have psychological safety.”

Proactive support before a crisis

Saini said that the goal here was to bring power and agency back to people within the South Asian community around mental health services. They want to do it before that need becomes dire.

“The intention of this campaign and the event is to be proactive, and let people know that there is psychological safety in our community. That we should be having these conversations before people are leading to higher degrees of mental health issues, or turning to alcohol and drugs,” Saini said.

“It’s really unfortunate with our organization, people don’t come to really answer ‘how are they, really.’ It’s normally when they’re past the point of there’s no question that they’re not OK.”

She said that PCHS is not just a non-profit health organization. They’re an advocate for the community in order to foster greater awareness and outreach for mental health.

“When I say advocacy, it’s not just within the South Asian community, it’s also within the mainstream sector, different levels of government, and really having to address that ethno-specific services are needed because they are a different community. The needs and nuances are different as well.”

Another unique aspect of PCHS is that they serve both the victims of domestic abuse and the perpetrators. That’s an effort to break the abuse cycle.

“We do really see that it is not a one-sided solution. To just support one side knowing that perpetrators are also in a cycle of violence that needs to end as well,” Saini said.