Advocates call for more targeted mental health support for South Asian community during pandemic

·3 min read
Kulpreet Singh, founder of the South Asian Mental Health Alliance, says language barriers and cultural barriers are preventing the South Asian community from getting mental health support. (Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions - image credit)
Kulpreet Singh, founder of the South Asian Mental Health Alliance, says language barriers and cultural barriers are preventing the South Asian community from getting mental health support. (Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions - image credit)

A non-profit organization that focuses on connecting members of B.C.'s South Asian community to mental health resources is calling for more targeted support during the pandemic.

Communities with a high proportion of South Asian residents have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic as many live in multigenerational households and work in frontline jobs, according to the founder of the South Asian Mental Health Alliance.

"There are a lot of factors that come into play when someone seeks out mental health support and that includes language barriers, cultural barriers," Kulpreet Singh said on the CBC's All Points West.

"It would really help if a mental health professional could understand the dynamics that people are going through right now."

In addition to living with the pandemic in B.C., the increasing number of deaths due to COVID-19 in India, as well as recent nationwide protests in that country by farmers against changes to agriculture regulation, are causing stress and anguish for people of South Asian descent, Singh said.

He said according to data from the B.C. government, eight out of 13 communities with the highest COVID-19 transmission rates had a sizeable South Asian population. Singh said lack of resources and language barriers are the two biggest factors why community members don't reach out for help.

Culturally relevant support needed

Yashmeet Kaur said she came to Canada in 2014 as an international student with little to no knowledge about the services available in the province — not even her rights as an immigrant and student.

"I wish I would have known it when I just came into Canada to be better supported and raise my confidence," Kaur said. "I also did not have enough knowledge about how important is it to take care of my own mental health."

She said there is still a stigma associated with mental health issues in the South Asian community.

Kaur co-founded the Surrey, B.C.-based Students Overcoming Opioid Use Disorder and Addictions after realizing how great the need is for supporting those of South Asian descent with substance use and mental health issues.

Members of Students Overcoming Opioid Use Disorder and Addiction. Co-founder Yashmeet Kaur says there is still a stigma associated with mental health issues in the South Asian community.
Members of Students Overcoming Opioid Use Disorder and Addiction. Co-founder Yashmeet Kaur says there is still a stigma associated with mental health issues in the South Asian community.(Submitted by Yashmeet Kaur)

She said the organization has started going out to local parks and temples in the city to educate people about how to get help. That includes tips on how to prevent overdoses and how to use a Naloxone kit.

"The South Asian community does not have the resources and most of the resources are in English," Kaur said. "More than half of the South Asian community is not able to interact in English or do not understand that language."

Both Kaur and Singh believe more services specifically targeted for diverse communities is needed throughout the province and they hope to create a type of on-boarding service for all international students and immigrants to be able to utilize as soon as they come to Canada.

"These are some of the things that non-profit societies like ours are trying to do, but without scalable funding and systemic support, people are coming across more and more barriers, especially during this pandemic," Singh said.

LISTEN | Kulpreet Singh and Yashmeet Kaur talk about the need for more mental health support in South Asian communities on All Points West: