South Asian Association And Resource Agency SAHAARA of Jackson Heights Turns 3 Year Old

SAHAARA President Dr.Tanzia Mustafa on the left, India Home CEO Dr. Vasundhara Kalaspudi in the center and SAHAARA Vice President Dr. Veera Mookerjee on the right at SAHAARA’s 3rd annual Get Together on June 18, 2023. Photo :Courtesy Dr. Veera Mookerjee

South Asian Health Association and Resource Agency (SAHAARA) held its 3rd annual get together Sunday, June 18, 2023, at its premises on 81-07 Astoria Boulevard in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York.

Speaking on the occasion, Vice President Dr. Veera Mookerjee said SAHAARA began seeing patients in February of 2022, establishing liaison with insurance companies and other mental health organizations having taken almost a year. “Since then, 222 mental health seekers have been referred to us by community organizations, doctors, hospitals and individuals,” Mookerjee said, adding, “We were able to provide 6 months of mental health services to 120 individuals and their families till date.”

Dr.Vasundhara Kalaspudi, CEO of India Home Senior organization, a practicing psychiatrist, said in her speech that she had always wanted to do something for the community time permitting and was glad that SAHAARA was formed to take care of the mental health problems of the community.

Launched in the Fall of 2021, SAHAARA has been focusing on mental health services, making them available to everyone. SAHAARA professionals speak different South Asian languages and Spanish, besides English. Its facility is located in the midst of the South Asian community at the junction of Astoria and Ditmars Blvd in Jackson Heights, and is easily accessible by public transportation.

“At SAHAARA, we are licensed professionals with full time jobs. We take out an extra hour at the end of our workday to give to the organization,” said Mookerjee to News India Times in an exclusive interview. She said they are also available full days on weekends for in-person consultation by mental health service providers. SAHAARA accepts most insurances including Medicaid.

SAHAARA President Dr. Tanzia Mustafa and Vice President Dr. Veera Mookerjee with volunteers and staff at SAHAARA’s 3rd annual Get Together on June 18, 2023. Photo : Courtesy Dr. Veera Mookerjee

Mookerjee said SAHAARA had developed a strong partnership with India Home who had made 50 of the 222 referrals. Currently, SAHAARA has 30 active cases. Since April 2022, it has also organized 20 Health and Wellness workshops for India Home seniors.

Services for All Age-Groups:

(1) Seniors. Since SAHAARA began operating at the peak of the Covid pandemic, its early clientele was mainly seniors. They were worried about their physical health, which resulted in anxiety and panic. “This was the time when we saw a huge rise in mental health cases in the South Asian communities,” Mookerjee said.

(2) Laid off Individuals. Also at the time, a significant number of people were laid off causing adjustment disorders such as anger, depression, substance abuse such as drinking and smoking. These were also among mental health service seekers, according to Mookerjee.

(3) Teenagers. Teenagers form a large portion of SAHAARA’s clientele. “It is sad that we see a lot of South Asian teenagers with suicidal tendencies,” Mookerjee said.

An interesting aspect of this is that these different age group individuals all went looking for help for their mental health issues. Their willingness to seek help, when culturally they are averse to publicly admitting need for mental health services, is a positive sign.

Speaking about how during the Health and Wellness workshops, seniors waited to find an opportunity to find the mental health provider alone to talk about their problems, Mookerjee said, “We found that seniors were more open about sharing their concerns with mental health professionals.”

Creating an atmosphere of trust in SAHAARA and its providers is important. Mookerjee said providers and volunteers reached out to individuals, speaking their own languages in a culturally competent manner. It also took careful maneuvering through sensitive health issue conversations, especially among the seniors, who would approach a provider with, “My friend has this problem. What do you think he/she should do?” when they were actually speaking about their own problems. “A major part of providing mental health services to South Asians consists of assuring privacy,” Mookerjee said.

SAHAARA President Dr. Tanzia Mustafa on left and Vice President Dr. Veera Mookerjee on the right addressing the gathering at SAHAARA’s 3rd annual Get Together on June 18, 2023. Photo : Courtesy Dr. Veera Mookerjee

SAHAARA President Dr. Tanzia Mustafa, a licensed practitioner, is a faculty at Mount Sinai Department of Psychiatry and manages the clinic and its licensed clinical mental health counselors. “Clinical mental health counselors are licensed and can diagnose and discuss and carry out medication management, so that the psychiatrist can evaluate and prescribe medication,” Mookerjee explained.

Then there are non clinical therapists who provide cognitive behavioral therapy. Mookerjee also spoke about Motivational Interviewing, MI, which motivates an individual walk out of a negative space. Most of the therapy sessions at SAHAARA are of 45 to 60 minutes’ length. Mookerjee said the number of clients to see, when and where, depends on the provider’s personal commitment.

For the annual get-together, SAHAARA reached out to council members, organizations, contacts, and sent word of mouth invitations. SAHAARA plans sending out donation letters, outreach efforts and fundraising in an organized manner next year, according to Mookerjee. “Now that we are doing significant work, we need to make sure we have enough funds to make our services available to all who seek them,” she said.



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