In the last few years, strides have been made in the discussion over mental health in the Indian Community. We have made incredible progress in introducing words like “depression” and “psychological” to a generation of parents who used to think that matters of the mind could be fixed by visiting the right priest and having the “demons” pulled out of you. Although I’m not knocking that progress, I’m ready to talk about the next step. Let’s not just talk about these things when tragedy strikes – like when a troubled teen has committed suicide or a long abusive husband murders his wife (yes these things happen).
Let’s dive a little deeper and take the conversation into the matters of our everyday lives. Let’s not just talk about mental health diseases but let’s talk about marital issues, familial issues, coping with grief, escaping abuse.
Today, for my very first post in the “Empowerment Series,” I’d like to introduce you all to Payal Patel, a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist from Charlotte, North Carolina. Payal holds a Post-Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy as well as a Masters in Psychological Services and currently provides mental health counseling to individuals, families, and couples suffering a wide variety of issues. In addition to this, she provides counseling to the South Asian population in Hindi and Gujurati as well as sexual assault and domestic violence counseling.
Her practice, Manu Counseling, holds a deep connection to Payal’s heart, and was initially founded to carry on the legacy of her late grandfather, Manu Patel, who always encouraged education throughout her life.
Q & A
1. Let’s start with marriage or couples counseling. How does a couple decide it’s time to seek professional help? Are there signs a couple should look for in their relationship to make this decision?
Payal: The majority of the couples I work with deal with a loss of connection within their relationship, which I believe can be natural. We shift roles throughout our lives so much, and I find that couples’ don’t have time to fully adjust to one role before they jump to another, like becoming a wife and then becoming a mother so quickly. Adjusting to each role takes time, which unfortunately most of us don’t have.
There can be a lot of reasons that can make a couple want to start therapy, affairs, adjustments (death, babies etc.), illnesses etc. The biggest thing for me is a connection, at the end of the day if you aren’t able to find comfort in your significant other when you’re dealing with stress, or need any type of support, that would be a red flag.
Some other signs to look for are:
Lack of communication
Lack of intimacy (emotional and physical)
Lack of connection
Repetitive issues constantly come up
Affairs (past, present or contemplating having an affair)
Negative communication (when you constantly judge or shame your significant other
Some couples go to counseling because they want to work out their issues, differences in beliefs before they decide to take it to the next step, such as getting married. It’s super important to have these intimate conversations with your significant other prior to making a long-term commitment to see if they can find a balance between their differences.2. Since you offer counseling services specifically to South Asian families, what issues (if any) do you find are more prevalent within this community?Payal: Recently, I’ve been working with the younger generation (17 & up) and a good portion of them are experiencing depression, I would say from the lack of support/understanding from their parents/family members regarding career choices or their “life choices” (not going to college, not finding the right job). Along with this, I’ve noticed a lot more South Asians’ displaying anxiety, just from pressures of finding the right job, getting married, figuring out what exactly they want from life.3. You also are very passionate about helping South Asian women who are victims of domestic violence. What sparked this passion and what is the best plan of action to take if someone I know is being abused? What can I do to help?Payal: Back when I was doing my internship at FSL in Montclair, the agency worked along with the Essex County Rape Crisis Center, where a lot of my friends provided advocacy (they met with victims at the hospital to provide support and provided a 24-hour crisis hotline) and counseling to victims. Through listening to some of the stories of the victims, it really empowered me to want to find out more ways to help. I started to research what was happening within the Indian culture, and it just so happened to be around the time of the gang rape of Jyoti Singh. Unfortunately, I found out how unsafe India really is for women, and I was super disgusted and heartbroken. My passion started really small, I would post articles or social movements on social media (IG and FB), really, to help people become aware that this was/is happening in our culture. From then, I provided free short-term therapy at Sakhi, in NYC to South-Asian women who were victims of Domestic Violence. If you know someone who is being abused, it can be painful for you, just because you may feel helpless or frustrated. Here are some tips:
Start the conversation. (tell the person you care for them, listen without judging, let them know you are here to talk and help in whatever way they need.)
Talk to them about safety. (If you’re worried about their safety or their children’s safety, don’t be afraid to say so. Ask them if they want to talk to you about their plans for keeping themselves and their children safe.
Provide resources for them. (There are a lot of free and confidential resources where people can turn if they want to leave their partner, like The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800- 799- SAFE).
More than anything be supportive. At the end of the day, it isn’t your decision if the person decides to stay or leave the relationship. Offering your ear may be the best way to help.
And, take care of yourself. It can be difficult to help someone in an abusive relationship, self-care includes making sure you have your own support and knowing your boundaries in the type of support you can provide.
4. What message do you have for women who are in physically or mentally abusive relationships?Payal: Being in an abusive relationship, I imagine can be lonely and extremely scary. In times, where you feel alone, know that there is help out there for you and your family. Find one person you can trust, and ask them for help. If you don’t think you can trust anyone, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800- 799- SAFE). They can provide you with resources that will support whatever decision you take. Your voice matters, and it will empower others to seek their own help.
Your voice matters, and it will empower others to seek their own help.
5. There is an obvious stigma in the South Asian community surrounding mental health. How do you overcome this challenge? What advice do you have for those that want to start a conversation about mental health with their friends or families?Payal: It’s still a puzzle to find a way to overcome the stigma, but it starts always with talking about it to others whether it’s friends or family. The best way to start that conversation is providing resources. A lot of the older generation doesn’t quite understand what mental health is, so if you know that you are experiencing, for example, anxiety, look up sources online, your local library, your primary care doctor or a counselor to give you information to share with family members. Let your friends and family know what you are experiencing and you’re looking for support. If you still feel that you need additional support, reach out to a therapist. You and your therapist can create a plan together, in ways to initiate conversations with your loved ones.6. How confidential is the information that your clients share with you?Payal: All of the information my clients share with me is confidential with some exceptions. Under the law, if my client shares with me that they are being abused, have intentions of hurting themselves or others; I am obligated to report it to law enforcing officials, this also goes accordingly with children. If I suspect a child is being abused, I am obligated to report.
Thank you so much to Payal for taking time out of her day to provide some insight into her world and advice for all you Chutney Life readers! Learn more about her services and resources over at ManuCounseling.com. If you’d like to recommend someone else for this Empowerment Series, please email me at Palak@TheChutneyLife.com. Thank you!