We recently had the good fortune of speaking with Dr. Jyothsna Bhat on the topic of mental health in the South Asian community.
Our discussion is available in its entirety below, either on Spotify or YouTube. The transcript is also provided for reference.
Dr. Bhat is a clinical psychologist and mental health advocate specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, ADHD, relationship and family issues and stress management. She writes a monthly column for Psychology Today on The Psychology of the South Asian Diaspora.
Hi everyone, this is Nikhil Torsekar coming to you from Chicago. Today I’m speaking with Dr. Jyothsna Bhat on mental health issues in the South Asian community. Jyothsna and I, it’s a funny story. We had actually gone to college together.
So this would actually be our 25 years since graduation. But the interesting story is that through social media, a friend of a friend had shared an article that Jyothsna had written in Psychology Today. And so I thought it’d be interesting to pick her brain and connect with her and talk about an issue that my wife, Shelly and are very passionate about, which is mental health in the South Asian community.
And so, fortunately, we were able to and we were able to get some time to further discuss some of these issues. So Jyothsna, thanks to you for joining, and really looking forward to this discussion.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
I’m so excited to be here. Thank you so much for reaching out. I feel like it’s such an important topic, and we can’t talk enough about it. There’s so much to be to be unpacked. Absolutely.
So I’ll go ahead and tell the audience about your background, and then I’ll let you talk to set some more light about it.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat is a clinical psychologist and mental health advocate specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, ADHD, relationship and family issues and stress management. Dr. Bhat has been leading has been a leading voice for mental health awareness and overcoming the stigmas that plague the South Asian community through her outreach articles and blogs. She’s been an invited speaker to events including Yale University, South Asian Millennial conference, Active Minds at University of Rochester project passport and the South Asian Bar Association, and has been interviewed by Zee TV, and Indian TV network and Business Talk Radio on mental health awareness.
So, Jyothsna, welcome. It’s like I said, it’s great to talk to you. And yeah, if you wanted to add a little bit more or update, because this is a dated biography from this morning. But if there’s any late breaking developments, you want to add to your CV there.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
No, I think that’s pretty much hit it. I mean, yeah, I mean, I would add now doing virtual, because that’s what everyone’s doing, since the pandemic, that’s become the platform for therapy. But yeah, I work with in New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, I’m trained as a generalist. So that means I work with kids and adults.
And I’ve been having my own private practice for a little while now and really enjoy it. I offer individual family and couples therapy. And I also like he said, on the side, I do some testing for ADHD. And I’ve gotten recently into corporate wellness, which has been a a fun journey, and it’s of itself. So you know, that’s what I do. And I really enjoy.
One of the things that is a passion for me is advocating for South Asian mental health. It just kind of came upon me, as telling Nikhil earlier that I became just getting into this field as a South Asian, you become like the poster child, for your community and all the aunties and uncles want to maybe pick your brain or ask you to talk to a relative of theirs. And so it’s very been a very interesting eye opening experience so far.
So you and I talked earlier, a little while back about the template career path for South Asians, which is either typically a doctor or an engineer, or I guess entrepreneurship is becoming more in vogue these days. But can you talk a little bit about your path and in terms of like, what you led you to explore psychology as a profession?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
Sure, I think I might have mentioned this earlier. It wasn’t like a huge pinnacle, or huge moment that suddenly changed the course of my destiny in my life. I mean, sure, it did. It did change the direction of my life, but not in a way that’s you know, it was very dramatic. You know, all of us our South Asians… in college, you’re expected to go pre med, and Nikhil knows is very is very well aware of this class, Organic Chemistry. Organic Chemistry, many fond memories, right?
Washington University is a very grueling program. It’s a top school, but when it comes to their coursework, it’s very grueling. And especially if you’re not into those classes, and I would say, organic chemistry was like the weed out class. So you take it and you don’t do well, you’re kind of weeded out of the pre med path.
And I was happily weeded out, I don’t think I even tried in that class. Yeah, be honest. But it wasn’t something I was feeling. And it just was, my heart was not into it. And so I tried a few psychology classes did really, really well in them, and began to recognize that this was another area of health, and I realized that it checked a lot of boxes, for me, I checked boxes for my parents as much as it could.
And I started going applying for schools and looking into fields field work, and some volunteer things with other you working with people and kids and things like that. So that’s my journey, going towards being becoming a psychologist, and is definitely and like I, the, the one kind of unique thing was, wasn’t unique, but I think I started to recognize the stigma that was half that was in the air and South Asian community. You just what, you’re at a party,
Exactly, in the water. You’re at a party and someone’s asking, “So what are you doing?” And I’m I’m looking to do psychology, and immediately there’s this kind of restraint response from aunties, uncles, even peers like, oh, even to do with that. The number one question was, “what would you do with it?” And I think that that’s a very interesting loaded question.
Because it’s like, you realize, as I realized, as I got into the field, there’s so much I can do with it. It’s not as limiting as people would think it is, it is, in every field of study, psychology can be found in medicine, psychology can be found in entertainment, sports, law health field, everywhere. So it’s, I think it’s one of the most diverse and versatile fields of study. So I’m thoroughly excited that I took it.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
But like I said, the air of the stigma was so strong, and even in just people asking me what kind of doctor you’re going to be. And at the time, I was looking to do the PsyD program, and people who know what that was even I was curious myself trying to figure it out. And I remember like, a peer saying to me, “oh I don’t know, I think I want to be a real doctor, though.” Like a PhD – even that there was a stigma between a PsyD and a PhD.
Can you tell us a little bit about the difference? Because I, I have some friends who are PsyD, and PhD’s he’s also and I kind of have a sense, but maybe, can you tell us a little bit about the distinction between PsyD and PhD? Because I’ve heard the term used interchangeably, but I think it would be helpful for people to understand your background, maybe if there’s a difference in the focus in terms of philosophies, maybe if you can give us a little bit of insight into that.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
Yeah, I mean, I think the main difference really is the focus on research, that was the big kind of distinction back in the day, I guess research PhDs are expected to publish, you’re expected to continue on some research project, whatever it is, you’re publishing papers, you’re writing, maybe writing books, even those kinds of things, and with a PsyD, and you’re getting some clinical work, I understand that you’re getting a lot of clinical work as well.
But with the PsyD, the emphasis was clinic clinical, it was a lot more of field work and getting seeing clients seeing patients in different various fields of study, and, but the CIT program does want well rounded clinicians, so we had to do a dissertation, we had to do clinical comps, and we had to do when you to get a license, you have to pass the board, everybody has to pass the boards. So and then you get matched with the residency very similar to amount of med students. So I mean, PhDs and so it converge in some of those areas. But I think that’s the main differences initially.
It is and even now to this day, I would say it’s research heavy.
Gotcha. Yeah, gotcha. Okay.
So we talked a little bit about college. And I wanted to understand a little bit more, I have my views. And I think you and I have talked about it a little bit. But what do you think is unique about the South Asian experience vis-à-vis other demographics. That could be folks who were born here in this country, and have generations of family members here, not from another country, or other minorities? Maybe talk a little bit about that.
Maybe it’s just like, what makes it unique? And maybe how does that contribute to mental illness within South Asian within the South Asian community?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
Sure, yeah. I mean, I’d say that any demographic group, other than maybe the African American Native Americans, to some extent, Hispanic Americans were different, just because they weren’t dragged here on on slave ships, and weren’t forced here to come here. Rather, it was almost like a place to seek opportunity, it was more of a positive experience, right off the bat.
You know, you’re kind of thanks to the civil rights movement leaders were fighting for the rights of black people. And as you know, as the immigration laws from beginning were being written, so many I was looking through that, that finally that were Asians weren’t starting to get included.
And so were South Asians writing the coattails of this whole Civil Rights Movement, and were able to be added in, and especially when they started adding literacy laws. And places like India at that point, like we’re talking mid 19th century and stuff, we’re already colonized speaking English. So there were, they were able to kind of have a leg up in some in some cases.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
So, I mean obviously, Indian immigrants from South Asia, especially India came really far back from like, mid 19th century, they were coming from Punjab, and working on the railroads, and trying to compete economically still repaying getting underpaid, but it was later in the 1960s, I think where this huge group of South Asians started coming in and flux, and they were like, really fluent in English, and high professional skills and are very level of education was very strong. And they were trained, like medical doctors, and scientists, engineers, and university professors, even my dad.
Yeah, university professor, we went to England first, and then came here, but he was faculty at WashU. So kind of allowed people to bring their families and begin to have the financial means to own property and things like that. So really, you’re looking at a group that was highly educated, and coming here to bake, make big money and have their dreams of wealth come true.
And there’s a certain status as you might know, when you go to India and visit to be part of America, or to be living in America, it’s a pride that comes from absolutely the American is visiting like, it’s big deal. And this kind of added this layer of pressure for immigrant parents, I think, to just work hard and to be successful, it was a point of pride, and they really wanted to make sure they were setting themselves up, but more importantly, setting their children up. And they would stop, but nothing to you know, get at least their children to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
You know, usually, a lot of times they don’t even enjoy it themselves, but they’re just making sure that they’re setting kids up. So with that backdrop, there’s this tension, and there’s this pressure at home around academics and finances and just these growing issues between immigrant parents and their bicultural first generation kids. I mean, here are the first gen bicultural kids trying to straddle two cultures, not like you fit in, in India, not fitting in in America, and trying to you know, kind of get figure out their schooling, figure out how they fit in, like, they fit in what their identity is.
Yeah. And I feel like that has been some of the and that that’s like 70s 80s 90s like, trying to figure out how to straddle these two cultures, and also deal with what their parents are expecting from them, which is that the pressure of academic success.
And it’s kind of like I think we were talking a lot we touched on a little bit earlier discussions about the model minority myth, and yeah, I was just gonna ask that.
Yeah, um, so really like, I feel like this model minority status is a big driver of stress and it kind of puts this internal external pressure, I should say, to kind of put your head down, don’t stir the pot, no matter what is thrown at you. You have to keep pushing forward. And the tenets of forbearance, patience, sacrifice, fortitude, gratitude, like, all of these things are encouraged and made to seem as the most important values to have. And I think this idea of pain tolerance, and tolerance of suffering is really huge.
So there was a study done actually in if I can share quickly – in 2015, by this doctor who interviewed South Asians in America, and I believe in Canada, UK, possibly as well about their tolerance for pain, and how they view it and basically one of the main takeaways was that pain was not something that’s helped Asians deal with kind of put it off, right for a very long period of time even going towards that South Asians all over the world or in specific regions, or wherever it was, well, this, he found this that he was looking at American, South Asians in America South, okay, UK, and I think India, maybe Canada? Yeah, just kind of all over the world.
Okay. Yeah. So just how they we put off pain I don’t know if you notice that in your own life with your own family. But just the idea of like, grin and bear it is kind of the mantra, right? Yes, definitely. So you know, you just, you don’t even go to a doctor, sometimes until the pain is extreme, or where the very, like, last resort type of situation. And when they’re given medicines, apparently, South Asians, and I think this is probably very much Indian, Indian south, south Asian Indians, they would just take very little pain medication, like, just the bare minimum.
Because this idea I think, of, I think there’s a lot of beliefs in religion and spiritual traditions, about the body being able to heal itself, through natural ways. But it’s very telling also, though, about mental health, and how there’s this notion that, like, such issues as depression, or anxiety is just something you don’t have to worry, yeah, it’s a weakness, you don’t, you don’t need to be worrying about that so much. You need to dig deeper and deal with it.
And you’re right, they do look at it as a weakness strengthens the idea of like, holding on and being strong and not being moves. Resilient. Yeah, exactly. Not being moved by these kind of bodily pains or mental you know, changes but it’s it’s interesting and even transfers in responses to like racism, or prejudice acts that you know, we have probably you are in your family or have experienced I know, we have had such experiences in America and even in England, but I think Hasan Minhaj beautifully talks about this and Homecoming King. Yeah, genius. Genius.
He talked really about how his family gets victimized by racism and his father was just quietly dealing with you know, cleaning up the glass that the racist had broke of their car and, and then he didn’t want to make a ruckus ruckus didn’t want to make a scene and or stir the proverbial pot so to speak. Right so he’s and he asked him like, Papa wire Dad, why are you doing this? And he said, Log Kya Kahenge, meaning like, “What will people think? What will others say?”
This was in that Homecoming King special if you’ve ever seen it? Yeah.
Yeah, this show what is this show called Patriot Act? Yeah, that’s his weekly thing. Right? Yeah, he hasn’t that that’s no longer there. But that was an excellent show that talked about some of this as well. He had a mental health segment as well.
But you know, it’s really one of the main variables that you know, what other people think, let’s not stir the pot. It’s one of those main variables that’s holding up the status of the model minority. We don’t complain we’re found to be high achievers successful, hardworking, driven, and we plowed towards our goals. You know, we achieve them because of our intelligence and our grit but on the way, we’re complicit in our own self harm. And the systemic racism that’s around us, we’re complicit in that.
And we don’t even realize that we’re being tokenized, shown to other minority groups, that look, these guys are doing it. They’ve made become successful. See, we’re not racist, then this group can do it, why can’t you all get your act together?
And we and we just kind of quietly say, Hooray, yes, we are awesome.
One of the things that I think you and I going to Washington University – I mean, it was a pretty big South Asian population, I wasn’t super active in the Indian community, but I did have my group and we were pretty well integrated into the fabric into the social fabric at college. But for a lot of people, especially coming from small towns, it was not uncommon for you to be like the only Indian person in your, in your school or in your class.
Now, I know that’s changed over the years. It’s definitely a lot different now. Especially like when we see well, obviously, we have a first South Asian vice president. I mean, obviously, that’s a big achievement. There’s more people like, like you mentioned, Hasan Minhaj, Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling all these people kind of making inroads?
Can you tell me a little bit more like, what’s your impression of how the greater integration or the greater assimilation of South Asians into the social fabric in the US? Like, how do you think that’s played out with mental health? Because I think, for me, especially, I mean, again, when I got to college, it was different. But it was tough growing up in a Midwestern town, which didn’t have a lot of Indians I would get called Apu from The Simpsons every now and then, like there was a lot of, there was a little bit of antagonism and a lot of negativity, but I think that’s changed.
But I mean, how do you feel like that’s played into the South Asian experience with mental health? Just that assimilation?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
Yeah. I mean, definitely, I feel like there’s it’s, there’s been more conversations, I think there’s more, it’s gotten somewhat better in terms of like, more open communication between parents and their kids. But I still see some of the scripts and narratives still being passed down. And I think that just kind of it’s it was such a, it’s such a strong connection between immigrants.
And I mean, it was such a strong experience, I should say, between immigrants and their first gen kids, that it’s, it’s definitely, you know, carried on in some ways and plays out in some ways, in first gen. Kids passing on to their own offspring and their own children. I definitely have clients and friends, community members, first gen folks struggling with the accepting the idea of talking with someone about their problems, still, that’s still kind of a barrier for them.
It’s like an embarrassment and also because they think about what that what would their parents say, if their child was supposed to use to do this? Is it like, indicative of them not being deficient, like just and what would be the repercussions of like, someone finding out, especially if there’s like, a marital alliance or something like, yeah, there’s all these things
I think that it’s getting, it’s definitely getting better. And I agree that it was tough, I think for I think more in the Midwest versus the coasts, as far as like, just not having people that look like you and having to acculturate and assimilate faster. I felt like that I came on the East Coast later in life.
And it’s such a bubble here, like Asians, and South Asians can just be in their own protective bubbles, all you know, and you don’t have to really mingle as much with the outside world, which I feel in some ways, I’m thankful that I had that experience of having to be more acculturating and assimilating. But at the same time it was tough. It’s, I think, both there’s something there’s pros and cons on both sides, for sure. There’s something to be said about having people who look like you and being able to be resilient that way or feeling strength and numbers, and feeling empowered.
But just thinking about, yeah, I mean, how have things changed? Definitely the population have a lot more South Asians coming through. So and a lot more mental health that’s coming out and people are more talking about this a lot more.
And I mentioned this in my article as well that yes, there are obviously so many people talking about this, but it’s still when you meet with families when you meet one up in the field in the trenches, talking to people. There’s so much to unpack so much like that’s goes unsaid; so much trauma passed on about this.
So many barriers.
Yeah, no, that’s some great insight there. I think one of the things that I think you and I talked about a little bit, but I’d love to hear more, is just this dichotomy in between Indians in the US and then Indians in, in actual India.
You know, for me personally, I know that my experience that impacted a lot of my journey, because, as we talked about, there’s this stoicism or there’s this tendency to regard anxiety or depression as a weakness, and it and you know, sometimes it there is a spiritual component in Indian culture, wherein if somebody is acting erratic, or they’re unpredictable, or they don’t toe the line, there might be some spiritual imbalance or some spiritual impurities and whatnot.
I mean, it’s crazy, but still, even to this day, that seeps into a lot of the discourse that we have, in your experience, what’s, what’s been the difference, I guess, between, like perceptions of Mental Health here in the US versus India, based on you know, conversations you’ve had with relatives, or maybe clients, you’ve talked to, maybe if you can talk a little bit more about how things are back in the motherland, so to speak, versus us.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
I mean, like, I can’t speak to how it was back before because I we visit and I wasn’t even in doing anything with psychology at the time.
But I did go have a chance to speak at one of the colleges, there was an all girls college called at the Raj College in Chennai, and it’s a really nice, excellent institution, and they have a strong psychology department I spoke to, for the psych students and the entire department and faculty. And it’s definitely become it’s come a long way, as far as actually viewing psychology alongside medical kind of issues, psychological issues alongside medical issues.
But I feel like, if there’s definitely psychological issues often need the advocacy and the support of the medical community’s…the whole stamp of approval or advocacy, I that’s the main thing. But as far as the difference of how things are there, in the motherland, or I can only speak to India, I feel like, it’s definitely come a long way I know, back in the day, they would the little I know, mental health issues were often dealt with by ignorance, ignoring, or just kind of keeping somebody off in a corner or in their own space, or put them in an institution.
Yeah, there’s this idea that they, they’re just crazy, no matter, even if there was potential for them to get some help. There wasn’t the knowledge or nor did they take the time to kind of seek out or research what, what could be happening, what they could do with it.
But you’re right there, what there is this pervasive understanding about the spiritual aspect of it, which influences a lot of folks, particularly Ayurveda, and other types of holistic medicine and things like that, where they do talk about imbalances. And while that can be used in actually in therapy, it can’t be the only guide. I mean, it is it is an excellent, sort of, soul or compliment for people who believe in that and want to use that. But it is it can’t be the sole sort of treatment of choice. You know, you can’t just meditate away your depression, that is one of the most impossible things as you probably know yourself. Yeah.
And, and even just dietary things. Sure, there might be things you can do. I know Ayurveda talks about everything is in the gut and gut health. I think that’s becoming more of a thing here. Coming up fad here, actually. Probiotics and stress and things. More mainstream for sure. Yeah.
We talked we only talked about this a little bit earlier. Also. What I found what’s interesting is that there are a lot of things my parents provided for me and they gave me a great upbringing, great life, and there were things that they could have done differently. But on the whole I’m grateful that you know, I was provided the material comforts.
But what’s interesting is I see that there were things that they did that I would never, in a million years do with my kids. But what I’ve found it very interesting is that a lot of my compatriots or you know, fellow Desis, it’s almost like they went through the same kind of experiences.
But they didn’t learn and so that a lot of the whether it’s consciously or unwittingly, it’s almost like they’re repeating the same patterns, whether it’s that drive to achievement, whether it’s that let’s push are any dysfunction or any challenges under the rug?
What has your experience been in terms of observing second generation Indians, in terms of how they’re learning from the lessons of the past, good and bad, but how are they modifying the script for their, for their own kids?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
I think there’s a lot of more of the owning of their own negative thoughts. The very fact that so a lot of times the kid wants to come to therapy, that’s the new thing, the teenager or the 16 year old, or the young adults in college.
And oftentimes, though, when I’m seeing, like young people, like, let’s say middle school, adolescence, and high school, I’m seeing the parents at least a few times, and not to necessarily do therapy with them, but to give them some understanding of what’s happening with their son or daughter, and some direction and some, some strategies on how to parent in give parenting tips and parenting guidance. And that will help their son or daughter improved feel better those kind of things.
And I think, them just sitting in on some of those, they start to recognize, oh, like, yeah, I have my own things, my neuroses, and many times they start to think, I think I want to see a therapist, I mean, it comes with time, and with kind of discussion and communication, and the relationship I have with their child, and if they, they’re kind of seeing that this is really making a nice difference.
And they noticed that the things that they’re going through, if they have the insight is impacting their child, right? So they have to kind of have that awareness and that insight, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. And when they know that they have that insight, the next step is do they want to do something about it? And that’s the next step, will they actually take time to go to therapy? Or will they just want to handle it on their own somehow, or just ignore it and not do anything about it? So we have the mind that they’re putting this?
How do you feel they’re doing in terms of like, putting pressure on their kids like to kind of, like our parents did? Do you feel that it’s different? or about the same? Or what’s been your experience?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
I think it’s a mixed bag. I think it’s, so it’s, there’s definitely parent, those parents that are still like, You got to get into that Ivy League school. You know, you got to make it happen. And they’re like, carbon copy of what their parents did, even though they know didn’t work for them. But they’re doing it because it’s a script. It’s a script that’s kind of lays it out. And it’s like, autopilot script, that they go through, and it’s just getting them to recognize that sometimes they get, they might get a little bit taken aback, it just depends on how my relationship with is with them to be able to tell them and call them out on it. um, but yeah, I mean, sometimes, like I said, some people have that and can recognize I want to, I don’t want to do this to my child.
I was invited out to speak to a community out in Fremont, California, but one of the AC capitals area very high achieving bases, Silicon Valley is there as you know, yeah. This was a cousin of a cousin who lives in Fremont. He’s at Facebook. So yeah, yes, yes. familiar with that.
And I was talking to some of the parents and definitely themes that came up or competition and comparing comparisons, comparing the kids to another child, and this was done to me, said, one of the parents, so, this is just what I do this is what we all have to do. Kids have to learn to get through and because you’re always going to compare it in your life. That was one of the things. So one of the parents told me, and I said, I know, but that doesn’t mean you have to pass that on. And that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy thing to have to deal with. Yeah, you know? Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it is interesting.
It’s almost like you’ve gone through something kind of what it’s almost like putting you drink, drink some milk out of the fridge, it’s spoiled. It’s like, well, let me put it back and see if it’s what I mean? Yeah, kind of know what you see the writing on the wall you’ve been through, you’ve seen the movie, but you still kind of you don’t learn from the past.
So yeah, a couple of things that with mental health, Regardless of demographic, but I think is interesting is, there’s always like, there’s two things that I would say would be like a double edged sword. One would be like social media, because it’s interesting, because for my interpretation is with social media. I want to I always try to start with the good.
So the good thing is, obviously, there’s the community, there’s the access to information, there’s the engagement, there’s the connections that you form, like, this is a perfect example, like I I would have never thought to like, connect with you about like mental health in South Asian community.
The reason I did was because Bhavna our mutual friend, she had shared your article on I think it was either LinkedIn or Twitter or something. But you know, I look at that kind of serendipity, I look at that the just things that kind of happened out of the blue, which is just incredible. That’s not something that we would have had 30 years ago on prodigy or AOL, or whatever, those primitive social networks.
I do have to say, that’s a good thing. However, obviously, the bad side is just that there is that desire to keep up with the Joneses. There’s that compunction to live up to this false, idealized selfie ready, image. Maybe can you talk to me a little bit more about house, social media and maybe how that’s impacted?
However you want to touch on it?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
I mean, the South Asian, mental, mental health issues or just in general, in your, in your practice and your experience? Yeah, I mean, today, it’s funny that you mentioned it, because today just on I think Morning Joe, you’re talking about that, again, Facebook, or I think for Instagram, through Facebook, is getting backlash, again, because the suicidal rates going up, I think, sure.
You know, teenagers, and they’re like, why can’t they do something about this, but it is what it is. It’s I don’t think it’s ever going to stop, unfortunately. It’s just how much we can allow kids and people to consume. I think it’s, but that’s a whole nother kind of topic, I think. Yeah, I mean, definitely, the kids I see are the teens, I see the young adults, I see.
Everybody is talking about social media, here and there, and how much it does impact them sometimes. You know, when they’re depressed, they’re like, I can’t, I can’t even look at it. I can’t. Or I find myself scrolling and scrolling, scrolling. doomscrolling. And just like how and, and it’s, and it’s, you’re all you’re taking it in it, taking all of it in subconsciously, it’s impacting you subconsciously. And they do it right before bed, and it’s no wonder the sleep has affected self images, affected appetites affected all these things.
Like, yeah, I mean, look, I’m not going to tell anyone not to or to look at social media or to not look at social media, but it definitely, there’s a place for it, I mean, but when it comes, if you’re already in a state of mine, that’s not I guess, content or happy or if you’re in a state of depressive feelings, or anxiety, depression, those kinds of things, it can be really difficult it can definitely lead you down a rabbit hole of not good enough those core beliefs that sometimes come up for people I’m not good enough. I’m not lovable enough. I’ll never be as good as this person never as pretty as this person when it comes to like, body image. I know that’s another one.
You know, I have to constantly have to tell my, my teenage girls that you know, that’s not real are those are highlight reels and you know, you could throw on makeup and lighting and address and you would look the same Do you really care? You know that much? Yeah those kinds of things. um, on the other hand, there has been an, I think, just an explosion of mental help, like support and education and resources and tools and holy smokes it’s there’s a lot and it’s like South Asian mental health, East Asian mental health, African American Black Lives Matters, like so many things, that are on there that have been really just, it’s uplifting in that way and really hope up optimistic and hopeful and nice to see that there’s so many people advocating, and you know, doing the work, and trying to raise the consciousness raise the awareness around all these issues domestic violence, like, there’s just so many things that are being talked about, but you have to be accessing those things. Right?
You might not be you may be looking at, you’re looking at videos of cats, and yeah, which is also really nice and fun. And I think it will, if it relaxes you, that’s the other thing. I feel like there’s so many like, lovely sites on like Instagram and things like that, like the good news movement, and just more happier places to visit on the social media, but you have to curate the grams that you view. Right, you have to kind of find the right ones.
So organizations, maybe if you can talk a little bit about you had mentioned a couple in your, in your blog post, and we talked about some of them, but maybe some of the organizations like organizations that are helping address some of these issues of mental health and South Asian community, maybe in your experience that have been pretty effective.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
Yeah, I feel like the ones that I’m hearing the most about are like MannMukti. I know that’s a big one.
All across North America. I understand they’re doing some amazing things.
For kids, for adults, all different topics. That’s, that’s a really good one. SAALT – South Asian Americans Leading Together. They kind of dabble in all kinds of politics and culture, socio political, socio cultural topics and things like that. So, and I think they’ve also advocated for mental health. Some of the other ones that I wanted to add we’re like SAKHI, that’s in Jersey, the South Asian Mental Health Initiative and, yeah, they do free groups, they do medical camps. They offer I think alcohol and drug substance of groups and things like that, and therapy and counseling, psychiatry, there’s all kinds of support. They’ve really like done, they’re doing a lot, I would say, um, and then the some a few other ones that I sort of, saw casually on the on the internet where there’s a Bengali mental health movement. Now. There are website that seems really user friendly, and lots of resources. There’s the division of South Asian Americans are those what they named it, which is part of the Asian American Psychological Association. Yeah. So that’s kind of a nice chapter.
And then there’s the Institute for Muslim Mental Health, which I thought was really nice to see. There’s a young woman that I’m working with for a project and she leads Virtue Mental health, and I did see that one yeah.
She’s a student that is young and doing all kinds of wonderful things. Working. Virtue mental.
Yeah. She’s advocating for mental health with other young folks she’s, she’s got on that are involved in this platform. And she is Bangladeshi herself. So Bangladeshi American and doing some great things. So, yeah, there’s a lot of amazing organs and also folks just, suddenly, there’s like a, again, like a, like a, I don’t even know the word but exciting. All I can think, like explosion of South Asian therapists and psychologists and it’s great to see definitely. SouthAsianTherapists.org I’m plugging them. They’re really great. They are directory that they’ve been building for a while now of South Asian therapists across the board across the country, as well as I think they’re also adding Canada, UK and India.
But that is one that I’m on, and I also use that help other people find scripts in different parts of the country.
So do these therapists do they specialize? Like? Are they focused primarily on, like issues as they impact the South Asian community? Or is it more like? Maybe they’re, they find that they are better able to connect with people because of the same cultural background? Or is there any? Or is it just like a general South Asian therapist kind of community? Because obviously mental health has mental health, but I wasn’t sure if they have like a specific where they focus specific where they focus a little bit more acutely on South Asian mental issues?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
That that’s a good question. I think the ones that organizations that I meant, they mentioned are all like focusing in on their particular population. So you know, like, I think I’m not that they say no, or close their doors to anyone else. But I think those are the people that they focus in on therapists. And the psychologists, I think are like me, I would say, probably, they see everyone, I’m open to everyone. I’m on Psychology Today, as well. So I get a lot of folks reaching out to me of all nationalities, religions, race, etc.
So what I mean, I think that’s so important, just because even if it’s not like a exclusionary criteria, or anything like that, but I think your connection with your therapist is so important. And I think I see a therapist, and she’s I don’t know what the PC term is Caucasian or white, or I don’t know what I’m supposed to say, but she’s not Indian.
But at the same time I do have a good rapport, the same time, I think there are people who, if they’re able to make that connection with somebody who’s been through the trenches of the South Asian experience, I think it can be a very valuable dialogue, and it can it’s all about common ground. Right. And I think it’s sometimes it is challenging for a lot of people who have, as you mentioned, lived in that bubble, to relate to different demographics yes, there is I think there’s gonna be just I think there’s probably going to evolve therapeutics for spelling bee anxiety or something.
Like such a such a big concern in our culture. That would be a diagnosis in the DSM. Yeah, dude.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
You’d be surprised. No. Yeah. Yeah, no, I just wanted to quickly add that, that, that a lot of people come seeking, specifically South Asian therapists, if they’re South Asian, because they’ve left their therapist, that’s not sufficient. I need somebody who, who kind of understands the cultural nuances. You know, when I have an issue with my parents like to not blame my parents, like kind of work through both sides of it, rather than just blame upbringing, or so it’s kind of interesting that you mentioned that it’s, yeah, it’s a true thing.
Yeah. I mean, how one thing I really liked about in what in your article, you mentioned, the double edged sword of gratitude, because obviously, gratitude has become a huge buzzword they have gratitude journals at Target, they have gratitude, like challenges and, and all this stuff. But it can be a, I don’t want to say gaslighting, but it can be a type of thing where your parents, if you’re struggling, if you’re having stress with organic chemistry, or those pre-med classes, or spelling these, or whatever it is in the Indian culture, and they’re turning around and saying “we came to this country with $8, and a bag of haldi; how dare you say that you’re struggling?”
Can you talk a little bit more about, like, how gratitude and the role that maybe how that can be interwoven into the South Asian experience where it’s constructive as opposed to being potentially toxic?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
Yeah, I think that happens a lot. I think gratitude, as we all know, is, is a lovely virtue to have, right. I mean, and now, like you said, Everybody’s doing the gratitude journals, and this and that, and it’s very much ingrained in the South Asian community that you grateful for what you have you think your blessings and more importantly you’re grateful for your elders to give you whatever they give you and that kind of thing.
But sometimes where it becomes a problem is when you feel you’re not necessarily feeling you know, feeling good about something inside if there’s something that you’re struggling with, whether it’s like going through some something disturbing internally and feeling like you need to seek, get some professional help get some, you know somebody else who can kind of understand and relate and connect with you on that, whether it’s depressive feelings, anxious feelings, trauma, whatever it is.
And this idea then when you go to your parents to say I need to talk to somebody, that feeling of that you’re being in grateful somehow by asking for that help, as you know, and because there’s this guilt that your parents, like you said about the gaslighting that parents will, may could lay on you sometimes guilt South Asian guilt is quite the trump card. But legend is sometimes very, yeah, they’ll lay on you like, like, how could you even like feel any of these things? How could you even like, like, feel upset? One of my friends or somebody told me recently, the parents said to them, like, how can you feel anything but excitement right now you just got into this top school, or you just got this amazing job, like, why would you feel anything but gratitude and happiness and excitement. And she’s like, I’m going through anxiety, like I can’t it’s and that’s what people don’t understand is that’s very closely sometimes related to excitement.
Physically, indeed, it’s the same symptoms, physical symptoms on a lot of times. So they’ve done studies that say that people in developing countries have much higher levels of anxiety and depression, then in third, I want to say, for developing nominations, because it’s just this never it’s like a rat race, it’s this never ending need to continue to get to that next level of, whereas people work with their hands, it’s the neuro plastic.
There’s the biological component to it. Yeah, definitely, there’s a lot more it’s becoming because of globalization and Westernization, anxiety and depression are shooting up in other countries developing countries, so to speak. But it used to be the diagnosis of the elite or like, of the wealthy Freudian neuroses and anxiety and things like that were just like rich people’s problems, and but now, it’s like, it’s everywhere, because we’re all in this rat race to continue to achieve and continue to move forward.
But yeah, no, absolutely. That’s where gratitude can sort of turn on you. So backfire, and actually cause more pain for the person who’s feeling Wow, am I doing something wrong by going outside of seeking help? Am I you know, betraying my parents? Am I betraying my family? Am I what will other people think that narrative again am I am I doing something wrong? And why can’t I just get this together? Why can’t I get it together? What’s wrong?
And, yeah, I did want to ask one thing, you talked about it earlier. And it was an interesting spin on it, because it’s this whole concept mindfulness and meditation. For me personally I’m in therapy, I find it to be very valuable. But one thing that I found is that it has limitations. Because if you’re going to rely just on medication, that’s going to be an effective if you’re going to rely just on cognitive behavioral therapy and talking to someone. It can be effective, but there’s ways to combine it. But I think those two, there’s so many pieces in what I call the mental health toolkit.
And I just want to understand what, in your, in your opinion, in your experience, like what is the optimal pieces of a mental health toolkit? Because for me, like I said, medication, therapy, talk therapy, that’s been good. But I’ve just found that meditation and mindfulness just simple things like paying attention to the breath. Nutrition is something I still struggle with I mean, I grew up on gulab jamuns and idli’s and all this stuff, I have a pathological sweet tooth. But that said, I mean, because that is, as you talked about with Ayurveda, and that a big part of it is nutrition.
But mindfulness meditation, those are things that from our from our ancestors from our upbringing, just the whole concept of harnessing that in the primordial sound meditation of chanting mantras and everything? Can you talk a little bit about sort of, in your experience? Basically, what kind of clients?
Like what do you think is the elements the four basic food groups, if you will, of a well balanced mental health diet?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
Yeah. It’s so that’s interesting that you say that, because I feel like as South Asians, I feel that we have at our fingertips, the keys to the kingdom, in some ways, so to speak, sort of, like the yoga and the, the zillion types of meditations the, just the overall in every sort of, not just Hinduism, I mean, like, in other eastern thoughts like Buddhist Buddhism, even in this in the, in the Sufi traditions, too, they have those kinds of more esoteric types of spiritual, meditative techniques and things like that. So, it’s, it is really awesome. And it’s become such a mainstream and it’s become like yoga, right? Yoga moms yoga, instead of soccer moms and dads, like yoga moms, you know, it’s becoming such a trend here. And even in psychology mindfulness has become such a huge part and parcel of what we do. It’s taught in the, in the graduate programs, it’s I was trained in it in my graduate school.
You know, they use it with patients use it on myself, it’s encouraged as a self practice, obviously, did you say that they actually did have some coursework on that in your graduate program? Yes, it was, it was coursework, but there was mainly fieldwork. So we were like reading books by Jon Kabat Zinn.
And and really trying to apply those things, the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction group and things like that, and cognitive mindfulness based cognitive behavioral therapy and things like that. So that was an invaluable experience for me, and also to bring into my own life and also to share with my clients and family members and friends and, and whatnot.
But I think you’re right, in the sense of, I love the way you put it this, but what’s a balanced diet and for food groups and things like that? Those four, but definitely, I trademark that remind me?
Yes, I definitely agree that, depending on the severity of a mental health issue, that’s something that we also look at as clinicians even the thought of whether it’s just therapy versus therapy, plus meds, plus therapy, plus a few other things, right. So I mean, as a psychologist, for me therapy is always going to be helpful.
And what’s nice about therapy is it’s not just Yes, we do talk, talk therapy, but there’s so many other principles that we use on psychological principles and theories. And trauma informed work is huge nowadays, we pay attention to our bodies, because that’s where trauma is sitting, right. So that’s all part and parcel of if you get depending on what kind of illness you have, and what kind of therapist you have, what their training isn’t.
But if you to get the full package of therapy, some of those things are going to come up, I’d say, that’s one aspect. Medications absolutely have their place it’s been researched and proven. And science studies have shown that when you have moderate to severe depression or anxiety CBT plus meds is the gold standard, right. So that’s definitely something that’s has definitely has its place when it comes to ADHD when it when it comes to OCD, and any of the other anxiety and mood disorders and things like that. That being those being said obviously everybody should have you know, has their go to alternative regiments and regiments, but I would definitely say that I feel like more and more now that we’re going into body somatic psychology and how we are paying more attention to our bodies. I feel like yoga fits right in to that, that she’s, so I feel like definitely more. I tell my clients all the time just simply doing a mountain pose, or simply doing Child’s Pose or tree pose, just pick one you don’t have to do hours of yoga.
And you know, start small I mean, we have a dear friend who’s a master yoga master and learned under Himalayan you know, that those traditions and one of the basic things he’d say would be just learn to stand and balance yourself standing and feel the power and feel that power of like being a mountain.
And to be able to weather storms. I mean, it’s just, it’s beautiful because that’s literally what we’re, what we’re doing. We’re standing if we can find our grounding, all these storms that come, we don’t move. We, we face them just like the same thing with the breath.
I mean, it’s something like, I always say, it’s not like mastering some complex physics problem. It’s literally breathing, breathing. And I always laugh, I don’t want to be flip about it. But I always laugh when people say, “I suck at meditation.” And it’s like, you know how to breathe? I mean you know, it’s not something that you have to like, rehearse, right, it’s literally just how to breathe, you know how to count counter for counter to and count for. I mean, it’s just hover. It’s so basic, but so powerful. Yeah. So yeah, that’s what that’s what really I’m hoping that I’m just curious, do you feel that more practitioners are taking that out of the box thinking about incorporating mindfulness, or do you feel like, it’s still slow to be adopted and come into mainstream and not so much the cultural aspect, but I’m talking about like, with psychology and psychotherapy.
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
Oh, it’s already here. I mean, it is already infiltrated everywhere, mindfulness, I think, even some of the older programs that were more into the psychodynamics. And I think they’re also turning in some ways to mindfulness. I mean, it’s research has shown such amazing things, right? Yes, with it how efficacious I guess it is, and it’s just very easy, simple, but not simple. Keep doing it. You know, it’s a simple thing that you can teach anybody, and I think that it’s definitely like the brass watching the breath is a big one that psychologists use.
We use progressive muscle relaxation, which is actually Shavasana at the end of the day, which is corpse pose in yoga. But that has become tradition in psych courses. That’s what we learn that to do that.
So I have three kids. And it’s funny. Every night we try to my wife and I, we tried to bribe them to do like seven minutes of like, a guided meditation on coffee or something like that. It’s we’re batting about 500 There are times we have to bribe them with doughnuts or Starbucks or something. You know, the ends justify the means, I guess.
I really I really enjoyed speaking to you Jyothsna, it was really interesting for me and learned a lot. um, was there anything else you wanted to add? Or I’d love you know, if people are interested, like, how can they get ahold of you if they’re interested in you know, talking more about some of the topics we talked about, like anxiety, depression and ways for managing that if you want to share that?
Dr. Jyothsna Bhat
Yeah, I You can reach me on my website, you can check out my website and you know, it’s not like so bhatpsych.com. Pretty simple And you if you want, I don’t know if you will provide an email, but it’s email@example.com. You know, all lowercase. But I’m happy to you know, definitely I’m always looking for advocating for South Asian mental health particularly. But I do love the topic of psychology and always happy to share.
I feel like we’ve covered quite a bit today. And it helped me, but I feel like there’s probably so much more to continue to talk about, but I’m so grateful about social media. Are you on any? Any channel? Yes, I am. I’m on Instagram, and I have a Facebook page and Twitter as well. So should be able to find me with my name. So um, but yeah, thank you so much, Nikhil. This was such a treat and a pleasure to be here and really had a nice time chatting about oh, yeah, no. Yeah. Pleasure. Thanks. Thanks again. Have a good one. Take care.