Following many years of hearing young South Asians in the Greater Toronto Area share challenges with accessing culturally-informed mental health supports and services, we came together to find a way to help. Young South Asian women in particular expressed a need to see a young South Asian mental health professional that ‘looked like’ them. Someone who understood what it was like to be a woman and straddle two completely different cultures --- being Canadian and being South Asian. Through these dialogues emerged a number of gaps in the systems surrounding these young people, with the central and repeated theme being understood as a young South Asian and the role of gender in their experiences.
As we unpacked the research in this area, we found very little information to inform mental health supports for young South Asian women, as well as a lack of culturally tailored information for key people within their networks. To address these gaps, we will embark on a three step process of co-creating culturally driven mental health supports and resources to enhance the mental health of young South Asian women.
Phase I (Completed)
We completed an arts-based qualitative study to look at the unique psychological and emotional needs of young South Asian women. The exploration of the needs of young South Asian women from different avenues resulted in a detailed understanding of the challenges and informed the basis for future preventative work in the field. Phase I is funded by the CAMH Foundation.
October 2017 - January 2018
Phase II (Completed)
In the second phase, we continued to engage young South Asian women in a series of workshops to co-create four short digital narratives highlighting personal experiences with mental health and addiction. The films are tailored to four key groups i) family, ii) school/educational system, iii) faith communities and iv) mainstream mental health/social service professionals. The films, along with a series of supporting tools, will be used to educate these four groups about the mental health needs of young South Asian women, and how to best support them. Serving as health promotion tools, we hope the resources developed in phase two will support our local communities with early identification, prevention and intervention of mental health issues amongst South Asian women. Phase II is funded by the CAMH Foundation bci consulting inc. Fund for Inclusion in Mental Health.
The films were premiered at the International Film Festival of South Asia in May 2018. The films and accompanying resources have been shared with communities across the Greater Toronto Area throughout the summer and early fall of 2018. We continue to deliver workshops across the city. For more information head over to the Roshni Roadshow page.
All films and tips sheets are now available open access.
In response to requests, the team are currently working on developing a workshop toolkit to support community members with facilitating workshops in their local area and setting.
February 2018 - December 2018
Phase III (Ongoing)
Finally, phase three will build on all the information collected and resources developed in phase one and two to co-create a culturally driven psychosocial intervention for young South Asian women aged 16-25, that can be implemented within educational and mental health settings. Phase III is funded by B&C Health.
January 2018 - ongoing
OUR PARTNERS & FUNDERS
July 10, 2019
The Roshni Project: Highlighting the Lived Experience of South Asian Women - Webinar
Last week, Shreya Kumar (Roshni Member) and Dr. Gursharan Virdee (Principal Investigator) had the honour of speaking with Nitali and Nikita from CAMH PSSP as part of their New Narratives Webinar Series. The webinar is now available online.
July 23, 2018
CAMH Blog: Spotlighting the mental health of young South Asian women
By Dr. Gursharan Virdee
During Mental Health Awareness Week and South Asian Heritage Month in May, CAMH had a unique opportunity to showcase its research with South Asian communities on the world stage by premiering four films at the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) held in the Greater Toronto Area.
June 24, 2018
It's been a while!
The Roshni Tribe are back after a much needed break!
Stay tuned for more on the premiere and our upcoming Roshni Roadshow.
April 16, 2018
The Roshni Tribe - Member Experience
Sara-Sati Ramprashad shares her experience as a member of The Roshni Project
You are not alone.
That’s something I had such a hard time believing. And it wasn’t until I reached out that I found that very statement to be true: you are not alone.
My journey exploring my own mental health brought forward the opportunity to work with a wonderful psychologist as part of her creative team. We are turning the research findings on young women suffering from depression and anxiety into a series of short films and are set to screen them at the International Film Festival of South Asia’s Social Impact stream, here in Toronto.
I am one of those young women mentioned. And I never spoke about it.
My bouts of depression came from anxiety - the crippling, I-can’t-get-out-my-bed-and-I’m-crying-with-worry kind. The kind that scares your mother so much that she stays home from work to make sure you’re okay enough to be left alone. The kind that slowly eats away at you as you get caught in a cycle of negativity that feels never-ending.
Growing up in a West Indian household I’ve never felt comfortable enough to even bring up the conversation on mental health support. You hear the stories of others whose depression is written off as an incurable illness, of the suicides that were selfishly and senselessly committed, of the people “in the mad house” who are destined to stay there because there’s no hope for them.
With attitudes like this it has never shocked me that my parents’ native Guyana has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
The stigma around mental health in general was a big part of what stopped me from seeking help. And when things got bad enough that I knew I should reach out, I literally could not find the words to speak.
The South Asian sisters I met in these focus groups could all relate. We were so different yet the barriers we encountered were so similar: the talks about the shame and guilt we would feel, the competitive nature of our culture to excel because our parents left homes thousands of miles away just for our benefit, the classic case of “log kya kahenge” we all experience in our own mother tongues.
That roomful of brilliant young women was the first time I’ve ever felt like I was being listened to. That my voice mattered and my experiences with depression and anxiety were not shameful, but valuable. Coming to terms with my depression and learning what it was offered incredible insight. On my own journey of healing, I sat with my pain and listened to what it was telling me, and that in itself showed me meditation, journalling and looking inward was the way to go.
The safe space created left me feeling empowered after each and every session, right down to the last film workshop. I was ecstatic to be a part of a project I felt so passionate about, with a team bursting to the brim with creativity. I had a part in writing two scripts and even acting in them and I hold this experience so dear to my heart.
Working with these strong women on such a worthy cause has inspired me to be the change I want to see, and helped me find my voice again. My involvement with The Roshni Project has encouraged me to use my voice to build a platform and start a dialogue in my own community. Six months ago I would’ve never thought I could find so much strength in speaking up and heal in such a transformative way. And it’s because of voices speaking up that made The Roshni Project possible.
April 09, 2018
The Roshni Tribe - Member Experience
Vinsia Maharajah shares her experience as a member of The Roshni Project
The Roshni project started off with groups of South Asian women coming together for research purposes. I thought it would simply be that and had no idea how much this project and the women apart of it would affect my life in positive ways.
I was able to meet individuals who had mental health concerns for the community and noticed that, each of us, came from different communities, but faced very similar issues. Women are often expected to remain strong, and seeking help is often stigmatized in our communities. The Roshni project made me realize that I can become the change I wish to seek, along with like-minded peers who wish the same for their own communities and the South Asian community as a whole.
I come from a family, where my parents have dealt with poverty and traumatic events in Sri Lanka during the war. As a child of the diaspora, I've noticed that there are many inter-generational conversations that need to happen in regards to mental health, and collective healing as a whole community. Tamil people are resilient and strong, but we should seek help and be vulnerable when needed. Our community will start to heal, if we as individuals seek help, and have open conversations about healing and mental health.
In recent times, I see "South Asian," projects but they are very focused on North Indian culture, Hindi-centric wording and aesthetics, and I felt left out as a Tamil woman. We're often shown as a small, brief moment in South Asian spaces. Seeing something in Tamil in a South Asian space was like seeing a blue moon; rare, but when it happened I was happy to see it, but I wanted to see more of it. In the Roshni Project spaces, I was able to work with other Tamil women, and exchange stories with South Asian women from various communities. Together we were able to build bridges and have open dialogues.
We were able to create content with various art forms to express our concerns, and I believe that art is a very powerful medium. It's there for me when words are not, and I feel like expressive outlets should be available to everyone who is wishing to put their thoughts into visuals.
In the last few months, I never expected to develop powerful connections with South Asian women, who have inspired me to be vulnerable, seek help when needed and have open dialogues with people from all walks of life about mental health and healing. It was incredibly refreshing to meet empowering women who spoke about powerful subjects of all sorts of depths, and I'm looking forward to the next few weeks before our 4 short films launch at IFSAA Film festival in May.
April 05, 2018
The Roshni Tribe - Member Experience
Harleen Singh shares her personal experience as a member of The Roshni Project.
Working on the Roshni Project has been an eye-opening experience for me. I got to sit down with amazing individuals who shared stories and their perspectives on mental health. It is incredible how so many South Asian women are affected by mental illnesses and how little it is talked about. We all got to relate to one another whether it be through our social lives, how we cope with our mental health and how it impacts us. I definitely got to see different perspectives on the mental health topic and how it affects the daily lives of women, especially in the South Asian community.
From the first time I sat down with the amazing girls contributing to the Roshni Project, I knew it was going to be something special. The ideas that were thrown into planning the short films were extraordinary from every individual. All the girls involved had a creative background as well, which made it easier to piece ideas together. We all had a creative mindset going into this and were easily able to agree with each other on what our vision would look like. Our film director, Maithili, helped sculpt our ideas to create something incredible as well, and I am so excited to see the outcome, as these short films have had our heart and soul poured into them.
Filming with the Roshni tribe was a breeze as well. Although I am in only one film, I felt like I was apart of something so much more. Gursharan, Mariyam and Bareera all helped me choreograph exactly what we all pictured for the film and made it come to life. I was incredibly pleased with what we had ended up creating and I’m sure the rest of the girls were happy as well. Personally, I was not able to attend the rest of the filming meet-ups but I wish I had been, because every single individual involved in the Roshni Project are amazing and I would have loved to work with them more.
I got to meet people who really opened my eyes about the mental health stigma and how we should continue the topic and open the rest of the world’s eyes. This project has already helped others in their mental health journey, and has made connections with people who are capable of wonderful things. Everybody involved in this project has a creative eye that can be used to express their emotions, which will be seen in the short films. Hopefully with these short films and the art that has been created, we will be able to achieve this goal. I cannot wait to see the results of the short films, and to spread the word about mental health of South Asian women.
March 28, 2018
Film Planning Workshop: The True Meaning of Co-creation
by Mariyam Lightwala
Coming out of our research intensive phase of The Roshni Project, I still had my researcher hat on as I entered the room for the first film planning workshop. I had the meeting agenda in one hand, my notepad in the other and my facilitator hat ready to go. What I realised 20 minutes into the “workshop” - I didn’t need my researcher hat; I was sitting amidst the true meaning of community based participatory research and co-creation.
We have started the second phase of the our project which focuses on telling the stories we had heard during our focus groups. This phase is a series of workshops that involves working alongside the young South Asian women to create short films that encompass their experiences, thoughts, and feelings regarding mental health in an aim to inform different stakeholders. Each film will be directed towards one stakeholder group, starting from those most dear to us, family, then educators, faith & spiritual leaders and mental health service providers. We hope the knowledge from these films will ease the navigation for young South Asian women on this difficult journey to improved mental health.
The planning workshop began as it usually does, with introductions and background about the project and our intent. Following this we had our amazing filmmaker, Maithili Venkataraman, take the stage and explain how she envisions the process to be. Though, despite the usual expectations of a director, she made sure to not bring up any of her own ideas and focused her energy on what the participants would like to see.
The initial hesitation and quietness quickly evaporated and the room began to burst with enthusiasm, ideas ... basically fireworks. It was amazing to see each member’s creative bubble. Many times we don’t get an opportunity to express our ideas as openly as we would like, we don’t feel comfortable or safe enough, however this wasn’t the case here. I even found myself (someone who claims to not have a cell of creativity) being inspired by the contagious mood and jumping in with ideas.
By the end of the session we had a concrete concept idea of our 4 films. We had also narrowed down the message they would like conveyed in each film to each of the targeted audiences - what did we need our families to know, our educators, our faith leaders and our mental health professionals. We had worked on the big questions, now we had to chip down to the specifics, scripts, roles, setting, costumes...action.
It made me realise these women want their stories to be heard, they want better services, they want to see change. And finally they have been provided an avenue that brings THEIR voices forward.
March 16, 2018
Being a South Asian woman in Canada: Uncovering challenges and understanding needs
By: Bareera Sial
As we approached 5:30 pm, participants of The Roshni project started making their way into the room we had booked for the second focus group. All of us felt comfortable as we engaged in conversation, catching up on the events of the past week. I began by reviewing the group rules. Everyone agreed that they would speak freely and without judgement, since this was a safe space with no constraints on what could be shared. I noticed a sense of comradery had developed among us from the previous focus group, which strengthened further over the course of this session. We spoke about our mental health needs and the challenges we faced as South Asian women living in Canada.
We began by exploring the themes of spirituality, and whether spirituality had any impact (positive or negative) on the mental health of our participants. The young women discussed how they felt while attending congregational prayers at faith institutions such as temples/ mosques, or engaged in spiritual practices in their own homes. They spoke of their preferences and the supports they felt were missing in faith spaces. Secondly, participants explored their family’s role in their mental health through a letter writing exercise. Through these letters, the young women expressed many things they had wished to communicate to their families about their mental health. Lastly, the young women discussed their mental health needs as they related to their post-secondary experience.
Throughout the focus group, I noticed myself nodding along to everything that was conveyed by the young women. The things they discussed very much reflected my own experiences as a South Asian woman living in Canada. As a daughter of immigrant parents, I have first-hand knowledge about the immigrant experience and the challenges that come with being a visible minority. Often, I sit with my mother and ask her to share her story. I ask her how she overcame barriers, how she built social supports in a foreign land, how she started a professional career in her mid-forties, how she became fluent in a language she had very limited knowledge of. I ask her to share her story so I can be reminded of the resilience of South Asian women, much like I witnessed among the young participants of this project. In the stories of these young women, my mother, and even my own mental health journey, I noticed the resolve to be “unapologetically you” when faced with adversity. I was reminded of the importance to take ownership of my mental health and strive for positive change in my community. Lastly, I was reminded of the importance of this work. There is a need for inclusive, culturally-competent mental health supports for South Asian women in Canada and I am very grateful for the opportunity to do so through The Roshni Project.
March 03, 2018
Reflections: on being more than a research study
By Gursharan Virdee
Priyanka Chopra, that’s who I selected as an inspiring South Asian woman during the icebreaker activity. I chose her because of her ability to embrace vulnerability, be flexible with her approach but within this overarching context of tenacity aka keeping her eye on the goal. While I’m not a huge Bollywood fan, I am a fan of empowering role models that counter the many stereotypes imposed on South Asian women. Priyanka has in many ways broken the molds our own and other communities have kept us locked into for many years. These narratives shape stereotypes and continue to impact the mental health of young South Asian women.
Over the coming months members of the The Roshni Project will share their personal experiences of being involved in the study. We hope by expressing our thoughts, feelings and impressions in this way will provide insight into the co-creation process. We want you to know who is involved in the work, their lens, and why this project is important to them. I am sure you can appreciate that for many of us working with our communities of origin, the work is very much a labour of love.
_ _ _ _ _
In late 2017, after months of planning and back and forth with the research ethics board, we finally received approval to get started on Phase One of The Roshni Project. The first step involved engaging a group of young South Asian women living in the Greater Toronto Area who felt comfortable sharing their experiences of mental health and addictions issues.
In the first session we unpacked the meaning of mental health as a young South Asian woman and the various resources, approaches to healing sought out (or not). I heard how mental health was experienced as holistic, multi-dimensional and complex – I heard many layers requiring further unpacking. The depth was incredible. Participants expressed themselves through images, words, pulling pictures from magazines, creating a collage that bought their experiences to life in a way I have not seen before.
The psychologist in me was curious about the meaning of the images, the colours used and why. The human in me saw and heard how each of these pieces wove together to create a rich, textured, nuanced journey through life, navigating the ebbs and flows, highs and lows, pivoting at points of distress and resilience.
Thankfully we didn't have some of the common issues in focus groups type settings for example participants not feeling comfortable enough to open up in front of others. What I witnessed was in fact the complete opposite. The space felt supportive, participants were super engaged and shared experiences in a way that held space for others. It was really special to see. This was confirmed by participants who shared with us the space was safe, accessible and even healing; I heard multiple comments about there being a gap in the mental health service space for young South Asian women. And here it was --- a space created by young South Asian women for young South Asian women. I didn’t quite realize the importance of this space before that moment.
I could not escape the emotion building inside me as I heard participants share their narratives. Explaining poignant moments in their life that contributed to the onset of their mental health or addiction issues, and the ways in which culture permeated this process. I saw the pathway and absence of adequate support. I saw multiple failures of a system that is meant to support individuals, families and communities, yet clearly misses many. My frustration led to sadness, flipped back to frustration and fuelled the fire in my belly to continue to create these types of spaces and platforms for young South Asians to share their voice.
Even though we came together for the purposes of research, I left the first sessions knowing that this space signified so much more. Its part of the movement we are seeing across the globe, focused on women, women of colour, and youth; equity, inclusion and diversity; co-creation, collaboration and contribution. I think back to the speech Oprah gave at the Golden Globe awards, specifically our role in supporting women to express their truth. I see The Roshni Project as exactly that – a space and platform to express truth. That’s why I am so excited about this project.
January 31, 2018
Literature Review by Mariyam
South Asians are the largest visible minority group in Canada and comprise more children and youth compared to other communities (1). Their mental and physical health disparities are a growing concern and have resulted in multiple calls for action which address their unique needs (2-3). Within the South Asian population, young women between the age of 20-30 years are disproportionately affected by mental health issues including suicide and lethal self-harm; anxiety and psychotic disorders; and self-reports of poor-fair mental health (4-7). Further, their experiences and recovery pathways vastly differ from those of their male counterparts. As females, culturally ascribed gender roles and the patriarchal construction of gender affect their journeys (8-10). As South Asians, social determinants of health like employment, regular access to a doctor, physical activity and acculturation contribute to disparities (11-12). Finally, as youth, issues such as race, identity negotiation, sense of belonging and discrimination impact their well-being (13-14).
Thus, South Asian women are less likely to access formal care for mental health concerns. A recent study showed that South Asians and East Asians were more unwell when presenting at a hospital for mental health related reasons than their counterparts (15). Stigma and lack of awareness were cited as possible barriers to early access of mental health care. Another recent study reported that young South Asians are aware of one-third of the services available to them, however, many do not access them due to lack of South Asian representation, prohibitive fees, lack of specialization in youth issues and lack of diversity in models of care (16). On the flip side, another study showed that South Asians that undergo psychiatric hospitalizations show greater improvements, have shorter stays and have better post-discharge outcomes (17). When mental health services are accessed, the outcomes are better for South Asian populations compared to the general population.
Even with all the available literature on the issue, little has been done to explore and address the needs of young South Asian women. The United States and United Kingdom have implemented many culturally adapted mental health interventions for Latino and African-Caribbean communities (18-20). However, interventions focusing on South Asians, particularly young women are lacking significantly. In Canada, multiple calls for action have been made by stakeholders such as the Mental Health Commission for Canada to address immigrant and racialized communities. The only evidence-based culturally adapted interventions for South Asians present are for psychosis and do not target the youth (21). To develop effective mental health tools, recommendations state that interventions must recognize an intersection of gender, ethnicity, culture and mental health (22).
1. Statistics Canada, 2011; 2001
2. Rana et al., 2014
3. Ginsburg et al., 2015
4. Hong Fook, 2016
5. Bhugra & Desai, 2002
6. Ganesan et al., 2011
7. Anderson et al., 2015
8. Virdee et al., 2017
9. Kidd et al., 2014
10. Talbani & Hasanali, 2000
11. Islam, Khanlou & Tamim, 2014
12. Abouguendia & Noels, 2001
13. CASSA & SAWC, 2000
14. Bhui et al, 2008
15. Chiu et al., 2016
16. Islam, F. et al., 2017
17. Chiu et al., 2017
18. Sullivan & Simonson, 2015
19. Nicolas et al., 2012
20. Gonzales et al., 2014
21. Rathod et al., 2013
22. Ekanayake, Ahmad & McKenzie, 2012
1 / 11
The Roshni Team is hosting a series of workshops in collaboration with community partners across the Greater Toronto Area. In each workshop, we will share findings from our research, screen the four short films and facilitate a discussion about mental health in the South Asian community.
The workshops aim to continue the important conversation about mental health and access to services. We hope you can join us!
Expressions of Gratitude
The Roshni Project is by no means the effort of just a few people. Many have contributed along the journey. The expression of gratitude is central to our philosophy, which is why we are dedicating this page to highlight the unique and important contributions made by all championing The Roshni Project.
Dr. Sean Kidd (CAMH, Co-Principal Investigator) for his continued guidance and support on all fronts, and being an important ally.
Herleen Sayal at Women of Wisdom (WOW) for helping us think critically about our work in this space. Herleen’s shared enthusiasm for empowering young South Asian women is a continued source of inspiration.
International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) for supporting the cause by creating a platform for marginalized voices to be heard, and collaborating to promote and release the short films.
CAMH Foundation for funding the work, and continued support with engaging South Asian communities.