College student creates mental health support group for Indian-Americans

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Shyam Mani, Aishwarya Chenji, Dhivya Sridar and Archit Baskaran hold a meeting in Norris University Center. I-AM SHAKTI was founded to provide support and education about mental illness primarily in the Indian American community.
Allie Goulding/Daily Senior Staffer

College student Dhivya Sridar had an eating disorder last year and unlike many other Indian-Americans, got support from her friends, professors and a therapist.

However, she knew that many Indian-Americans struggled with mental illnesses and felt stigmatized, so she teamed up with five other students; Shyam Mani, Aishwarya Chenji, Archit Baskaran, Ragashree Komandur and Mohan Ravi, to create I-AM SHAKTI, a social justice organization that plans to launch this fall.

I-AM SHAKTI will provide support and education about mental illness primarily in the Indian- American community and plans to create dialogue that provides comfort to those with mental illness while educating communities to become better support groups.

“Our goal is to provide a forum for Indian Americans — who are recovering from mental illness, to join together and stand in solidarity with one another in face of these obstacles, in terms of parents not understanding or support systems not being aware,” Sridar is quoted saying in a news report on dailynorthwestern.com.

“And another aspect of it is sensitizing parents and communities in what we’re going through,” she added.

According to Komandur, Indian-Americans must address their distinct culture and continue to embrace it as their identity but also find ways to thrive in this community as Americans.“

Some parents may be insensitive to mental health issues, so there is a need to educate them on the subject while also understanding their cultural background,” she added noting the need to explain to the community how to get the help needed.

I-AM SHAKTI plans to do the following:

  • Create forums that consist of parental support groups so that parents who have recently found out about their child’s mental illness can ask questions and seek advice.
  • Create a forum for those with mental illness so they can express themselves creatively through written stories, art, music, videos or dance.
  • Build a network of culturally competent therapists who understand the additional struggles associated with the stigma surrounding mental health in Indian American communities.
  • Grow into a national social justice movement, beyond just Northwestern and the University of Wisconsin.

The group hopes to expand beyond the university confines to the wider Indian-American community.

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