Excited today to feature Sahaj, founder of @browngirltherapy, a wellness community that helps South Asian and first-gen women explore identity.
Especially in light of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month this July, it's important to take a moment to educate ourselves about systemic racism facing communities of color, especially in the mental health realm.
Access to mental health resources is a human right. Stay tuned for our Monthly Newsletter for more resources to advocate for the mental health of communities of color--email [email protected] to get the newsletter in your inbox next week!
“Self-care” has become a movement that encourages the practice of taking care of oneself, and inevitably, this transcends to also taking care of our well-being and mental health.
However, in some cultures and communities, taking care of oneself might be seen as selfish and too individualistic; it may not be encouraged or prioritized. Often the product of collectivist communities is the assumption that everyone is doing okay. Many people struggle with mental health, and these types of challenges unfortunately do not discriminate. Everyone deserves to take care of their mental health and well-being.
As a first-generation American raised by Indian immigrants, I understand firsthand the struggle of feeling displaced and floating between two worlds. The first-generation experience is valid. The immigrant experience is valid. The minority experience is valid. While there are a lot of similarities between different people’s experiences, everyone needs different levels of care and help to navigate their struggles.
So in honor of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, here are a few reasons why I encourage minorities and first-gens, like myself, to consider going to therapy.
1. Therapy can help first-generation individuals navigate their multiple cultures and their expectations/norms.
For first-gens like myself, discovering and creating our own unique identities through the lens of all our cultures and identities is a lifelong journey. There’s a constant duality in hyphenated existence. There’s the freeing sentiment that we can pick and choose from both, but with that can come the isolating feeling like we don’t belong anywhere.
Therapy has helped me navigate the guilt and frustration of being “too American” while showing me that embracing both cultures doesn’t negate my identity as either. Growing up in a culture that is not the same as where your parents and extended family are from can be difficult. It can feel frustrating and isolating. This can in many ways, contribute to mental health struggles, and therapy is a productive way to navigate these issues and live an authentic life.
2. Therapy can help provide a confidential, productive space to vent and work through problems
Often, culturally, first-gens, are told to keep “negative” things quiet and private so it doesn’t get out in the community, because “what will people say?” From my experience, reputation is of the utmost importance. Even if you have a lot of friends and family you can talk to, it may feel like some things are off the table for fear of gossip or shame.
Therapy provides a space for venting and working through whatever is on your mind without worry that it will get back to anyone you know or that you’ll be judged. It also allows space for getting professional feedback in a confidential, safe and nonjudgmental manner.
3. Therapy can help manage generational and unspoken trauma
In most minority cultures, experiences and situations that are "bad" and difficult -- like sexual assault, mental illness, failure, debt, infertility, divorce, etc -- can often feel wrong or like our faults. They are then brushed under the rug and forced to become secrets. Likewise, experiences our parents and grandparents have had -- like loss, immigration, war, abuse, and grief -- can be passed down in negative and unhealthy ways from generation to generation.
Therapy is a productive way to navigate our own trauma and generational trauma, and break the patterns. It’s also a healthy way to learn the tools to manage and heal from them.
4. Therapy can help in learning effective communication styles and skills
It can feel difficult to communicate with our own parents and community members, or more generally the majority of people in our everyday life. Learning how to have healthy conversations at home, at work, and in our everyday relationships is incredibly empowering and important. Therapy can help teach how to set boundaries, speak up for yourself and effectively communicate and identify your feelings in any context. It provides a space to practice and ready yourself for these difficult conversations and prepare for all outcomes.
Therapy has allowed me to learn how to initiate conversations with my family that have never been had, especially as it regards feelings and needs. It’s also allowed me the space to learn how to speak up as a minority in my professional life. Both have been tremendously helpful in living an authentic life.
5. It’s the first step in normalizing seeking help and breaking the stigma in our communities!
Children of immigrants usually have parents who have done it on their own. They moved to this country, navigated a new life, country, culture and language, and they did it without help. Thus, they believe that their children will not need help as a result. Minority parents also tend to believe they can fix or heal their children, and unfortunately that's not always the case. If a child seeks professional help, it is not an indication that the parent failed them. Seeking professional help can help you grow in many ways, and can also benefit families.
Going to therapy can help break the stigma surrounding mental health and slowly break down the walls in our communities that keep people from talking more openly about it. I encourage you to give if a try.
We hope these tips have been helpful for you in understanding the benefits of therapy for first-gen individuals and communities. To see Sahaj talk through these important tips above, check out our Instagram stories (and highlights on this and other topics) @findmywellbeing.
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Sahaj Kohli is a storyteller, traveler and community builder. She's starting her journey as a therapist-in-training at George Washington University and is the founder of Brown Girl Therapy, a wellness community and space for South Asian women and first-generation individuals like herself. She also works as a senior editor at HuffPost, where she primarily works on mental health, Asian voices, and travel content. You can follow Sahaj on social @sahajkohli and @browngirltherapy.