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Is the Sikh community dealing with mental health issues? #SikhMentalHealth

Sikh PA host mental health discussion in the first of a series of open forums.


 

On Wednesday 22nd November, the Sikh Press Association hosted the first in a series of open forum discussions on topics relevant to the UK Sikh Community.

This opening forum asked ‘Is the Sikh community dealing with mental health issues?’.

The format of the event saw a panel of Sikh mental health professionals and community volunteers. They were: Baljit Singh (Sikh educator for Basics of Sikhi), Jaspal Kaur (psychiatric nurse), Harpal Singh (psychotherapist), Sundeep Kaur (family therapy associate), Dr Ravjot Kaur (psychiatrist) and Gajan Singh (Sikh Helpline volunteer).

Hosted by Jasveer Singh of Sikh PA and held at Imperial College London, the discussion centered around five questions. The first question was:

  • How can Sikhs talk about depression when there exists no Punjabi word for it?

This question related to an article which highlighted the thought that perhaps a lack of discussion on the topic stemmed from a lack of understanding on the problems one can face with mental health.

 

Jaspal Kaur noted how terms such as ‘depression’ and ‘schizophrenia’ were Western words from a Western conception of psychiatry, stating: ‘We’re trying to fit our own culture and our own cultural issues into this Western conception.’

Harpal Singh drew attention to a wider issue of how the Sikh community tends to talk about mental health: ‘We are quick to offer answers but not to listen. Some people just want to be heard.’

From a deeper understanding of Sikhi and the language used by the Sikh Gurus, Baljit Singh pointed out that actually GurBani (Sikh scripture) has many references and terms for illnesses of the mind.

You can watch this question answered in full here.

 

The second question of the evening was:

  • What are Sikhs currently doing to deal with Mental Health issues?

This question focused those within the Sikh community – both organisations and individuals – who are highlighting the importance of mental health and even offering services in the area.

 

Only one person raised their hand when the audience was asked if they could name more than two Sikh organisations (those that had already been named – Sikh Helpline and Khalsa Aid with refugees) that work on mental health. However, host Jasveer Singh relayed a list of many Sikh individuals and organisations working in this area.

Gajan Singh explained the work of Sikh Helpline and there were also comments from the audience that organisations could only do so much to bring about a cultural change in treating mental health issues. We were delighted that Rohit Sagoo from British Sikh Nurses was in attendance, and he spoke about what his organisation did in terms of mental health. Then Shuranjeet Takhar introduced his new project Taraki, which encourages Punjabi men to talk openly about mental health issues.

You can watch this question answered in full here.

 

The third question of the evening was:

  • What mental health issues most affect Sikhs?

This question was an attempt to find out if any particular mental health issues seemed particularly prevalent within the Sikh community.

 

When posed to the audience, nearly every single audience member raised their hand when asked if they knew somebody that suffered from an addiction. The discussion of addiction centred on how addiction is often a last resort to cope, especially for men in the community, because they are not encouraged to discuss their mental health issues. Instead of being treated, they are often punished by the community for failing to live up to the stereotypical strong male breadwinner figure. Sundeep Kaur added that many children are brought into therapy with supposed behavioural issues, with parents not realising issues of this nature can stem from anxiety. Dr Ravjot Kaur also stated that health related depression is common, from people/families dealing with serious conditions such as cancer.

You can watch this question answered in full here.

 

The fourth question of the evening was:

  • What role, if any, can Sikhi play in dealing with Mental Health issues?

This question was asked to encourage exploration into how Sikhi can help in relation to mental health issues, based upon scientific studies that prove the benefit of practices like meditation, community bonding, group singing and more.

 

The fourth topic of discussion saw Baljit Singh from Basics of Sikhi explain that it’s not just enough to tell people to read Gurbani or to wash dishes in langar. Echoing earlier comments by Harpal Singh, Baljit Singh explained that the Sikh community tends to throw solutions at people before they have even been assessed. Guru Ji has given the Sikh community everything it needs but mental health sufferers need constant support, not just a one-off piece of advice. Dr Ravjot Kaur said that despite the Sikh emphasis on ridding your ego, it is our ego that fuels our prejudice against mental health sufferers: ‘Our ego gets in the way of us being approachable to people with mental health issues. Let’s be loving, warm and approachable.’

You can watch this question answered in full here.

 

The final question of the evening was:

  • What practical steps can the Sikh community take to deal with Mental Health issues?

This question was aimed at seeing the panel provide advice and guidelines for those looking to further the work done within the Sikh community on mental health.

 

 

On this question Jaspal Kaur argued for a greater physical presence of mental health support in gurdwaras to show the community that help is available. She talked about the art therapy that she conducts and explained how mental health support should not be just counselling. Gajan Singh struck a chord with the audience when he said ‘people in our community offer excuses more than solutions.’ Baljit Singh also gave a rousing statement on how taking these issues into our own hands to deal with is part of Khalsa Raj.

You can watch this question answered in full here.

 

The event concluded with a plea by the entire panel for everybody to start acting on mental health issues. All too often events and discussions are held, only for little to come from them. All the panellists emphasised how important it is for individuals to act themselves and not to solely rely on organisations.

See the conclusion of the event here.

This was just the first in a series of open forum discussions to be hosted by Sikh PA. The next one will be on the notion of Khalistan, likely to be held in January 2018.

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