If you think of an average South Asian living in the United States...
...I’m sure most of us would assume they either work as an engineer, a doctor, a scientist or an upper position in a company. I’m not in any of those occupations. My name is Payal Patel; I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I’m sure you are all confused by what that even means. I’ll explain in detail, let’s back track a little. I grew up in a traditional Indian home; both of my parents were born in India and had an arranged marriage. My father was raised in the States, compared to my mother, who came here after her marriage. My grandparents raised me since I was a little girl. I was very fortunate that unlike most south Asian households, my family never pressurized me to become a doctor, or an engineer instead they stressed education more than anything. During my undergraduate studies, I switched majors many times, I went from education to nursing and finally to psychology. When I started taking psychology classes my senior year, it immediately felt right. But the real question was, what do I do with a psychology degree? Can I even get a job with this degree? I started to research different occupations with my degree, that’s when I came across Marriage and Family Therapy. I enrolled in a graduate program and dove into an internship where I was challenged intellectually and personally. Most of the patients I counseled at the non-profit organization were Caucasian, African American and Hispanic and suffered a variety of mental health issues such as sexual assault, depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder. I started to think to myself, I wonder how many Indians are out there that could benefit from mental health counseling? Does mental health exist in my culture? And then, I came across BBC’s India’s Daughter. The documentary was based on the 2012 gang rape in Delhi of Jyoti Singh, and consisted of interviews from the convicted rapists, their lawyers, Jyoti’s parents, friends and lawyers. The documentary was banned in India due to fear of causing “harm” to the public and “insult with intent to provoke breach of peace” and provoked protests in India due to the ban. The documentary was the motivational piece for me that I had to do something.
I came across a confidential South Asian agency in New York that helped women who were suffering from sexual assault and domestic violence. I collaborated with my internship, and visited the agency once a week and provide free confidential counseling in Hindi and Gujurati to women from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh etc. I knew it would become a long-term goal of mine to help destigmatize sexual assault and mental health within the Indian community.
So what do I do? I recently opened a private practice, Manu Counseling, where I counsel families, couples, individuals and children who are suffering from various mental health illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety etc. I also help those who are having problems within their families and relationships. A huge part of my practice, serves the South Asian population, where I’m looking to spread education and awareness to the issues at hand, by offering counseling in Hindi and Gujurati.
According to National Institute of Mental Health, one in every 20 Indians, suffer from depression. Most South Asians have created a stigma with receiving mental health services, usually it’s around “what will people say?” or “ if you see a psychiatrist or counselor, you have to be crazy.” While, I can understand the hesitancy of some individuals in receiving mental health services, I truly believe that there is little education around mental health in our culture. People aren’t able to acknowledge when they have depression, or when they say, “ I just don’t feel right.” that there could be more outside of their physical health that may need some attention. I find so many people in our culture that will head to a medical doctor for a cold, but will think 100x before wanting to see a therapist for depression. And that’s my ultimate goal is to be able to provide education, awareness around mental health so we can create a shift to a more accepting culture.