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SAPHA - South Asian Public Health Association - logo

Newsletter - May 2023


AAPI Month: Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse contributions of the AAPI community to the United States. In particular, it is an opportunity to recognize and honor the experiences of South Asians living in the US, who have faced unique challenges and made significant contributions to American society.

South Asians in the US have a long and complex history, marked by discrimination, exclusion, and violence. From the anti-Asian immigration laws of the early 20th century to the post-9/11 backlash against Muslims and Sikhs, South Asians have had to fight for recognition, acceptance, and safety in American society. At the same time, South Asians have also made enormous contributions to American culture, politics, and economy, enriching the country with their talents, traditions, and perspectives.

AAPI Month is an opportunity to honor these contributions, to reflect on the challenges that South Asians have faced, and to work towards a more just and equitable society for all. It is a time to celebrate the diversity of the AAPI community and to recognize the unique experiences of South Asians in America. By highlighting the struggles and triumphs of South Asians, AAPI Month can help promote understanding, empathy, and solidarity across communities, and pave the way towards a more inclusive and compassionate America. Therefore, this month we are highlighting some impactful South Asian researchers.

Dr. Kashyap Patel, a board-certified oncologist and hematologist, has been a leading voice in understanding the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients. He has conducted extensive research into the link between the virus and cancer progression, highlighting the need for more biomarker testing to identify high-risk patients. Dr. Patel's dedication to advancing cancer care and his commitment to his patients have earned him numerous accolades, including being named one of America's Top Doctors by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. His advocacy for telemedicine in cancer care has also helped ensure patients receive the care they need during the pandemic. Dr. Patel is a true leader in the field of oncology.

The South Asian Health and Research Group (SAHARA) is a center within the New York University School of Global Public Health dedicated to addressing health disparities and promoting health equity in South Asian communities. SAHARA conducts research, community outreach, and advocacy initiatives to improve the health and well-being of South Asians in the United States and globally. The group focuses on a range of health issues, including chronic diseases, mental health, and infectious diseases, and collaborates with community-based organizations, policymakers, and healthcare providers to develop culturally appropriate and effective interventions. SAHARA's work is crucial in advancing the health of one of the fastest-growing and most diverse populations in the United States.

Dr. Arnab Mukherjea is an Associate Professor of Public Health at California State University, East Bay. He completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees at UC Berkeley and postdoctoral training at UCSF and UC Davis. Arnab's research has been funded by the National Institutes for Health, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Office of Minority Health, and the state of California's Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program and has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals. His research interests revolve around using community-engaged methods to understand and address health disparities among understudied Asian & Pacific Islander subgroups, with a particular focus on contextual and culturally-framed risk factors.

Research & News Highlights

How queer South Asian American representation helps reduce community's stigma

South Asian Sexual & Mental Health Alliance 

Desi LGBTQ+ Helpline for South Asians 

KhushDC, a social, support and political group

In April, members of the SAPHA board were invited to speak at the University of Maryland's South Asian Student Association's first Health Equity Panel on April 13th. During the panel, they addressed the healthcare disparities that disproportionately affect the South Asian community. To learn more about the panel and the important topics discussed, please visit this link.

Mental Health and South Asians

Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It impacts how one thinks, feels, and acts. It also determines how an individual handles stress, relates to others and makes choices. Mental health is essential at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence to adulthood. 

Data suggest that the prevalence of common mental disorders, such as depression, is higher among Asian Minority Ethnic groups. For example, a study focusing on older adults reported that those from British South Asian backgrounds were considerably more likely to report depressive symptoms when compared with their white European counterparts.1, 2 It is, therefore, important to examine the reasons for such disparities in mental health experiences and to encourage engagement with intervention.

Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness, promote understanding of mental health issues, and encourage people to seek help and support when needed. For South Asians living in the U.S., this is an especially important time to address the stigma and cultural barriers preventing them from accessing mental health services. 

Mental illness is often stigmatized in South Asian cultures, with shame and secrecy surrounding mental health struggles. This can make it difficult for South Asians to seek help and support, exacerbating mental health issues and leading to negative outcomes. According to leading mental health expert Professor Dinesh Bhugra, the South Asian population carries “a bigger notion of shame” with them than other ethnic populations. In addition, the populations’ religious and cultural influences do not consider mental health a medical issue but rather a “superstitious belief.” However, that notion is changing slowly with more mental health awareness and advocacy efforts. 

According to a review published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, several studies have found low mental health service utilization among immigrant South Asian communities due to culturally-linked stigma both in the U.K. and the U.S. This said stigma has been shown to impede health-seeking behavior. Among South Asian communities, it is often believed that disclosing a mental illness will bring shame upon the family and is deemed a sign of weakness. Consequently, individuals keep problems within the immediate family, and not utilize health services, and rarely discuss mental health because of the posed risk to their reputation and status. However, discussing mental health in South Asia must be socially normalized to increase mental health care utilization among the community.

Therefore, during Mental Health Awareness Month, it is important to recognize the unique challenges faced by South Asians living in the U.S. and to work towards breaking down the cultural barriers that prevent them from accessing mental health care. By promoting open and honest conversations about mental health, we can help reduce stigma and increase awareness and understanding, ultimately leading to better mental health outcomes for South Asians and all individuals.

There are several things that South Asians can do during Mental Health Awareness Month in May 2023 to support mental health and reduce stigma:

Educate themselves and others about mental health: Take the time to learn about mental health issues and how they affect individuals. Share this information with friends and family and encourage them to do the same.

Seek support: If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, seek support. This can include talking to a mental health professional, joining a support group, or confiding in a trusted friend or family member.

Challenge stigma: Speak out against the stigma surrounding mental health in South Asian communities. Challenge misconceptions and stereotypes, and encourage others to do the same.

Practice self-care: Take care of your own mental health by engaging in activities that promote well-being, such as exercise, mindfulness, and self-reflection.

Advocate for change: Get involved in efforts to improve mental health services and support in South Asian communities. This can include advocating for better access to mental health care, supporting mental health organizations, and participating in mental health awareness campaigns.

By taking these actions, South Asians can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and promote a more supportive and compassionate society for all.

LGBTQIA+ Empowerment Day

May 17th is officially recognized as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT). LGBT rights are not special rights and no one should be treated differently. This year’s theme is Together Always: United in Diversity. As members of the South Asian community, it is important for us to acknowledge and raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals. By educating ourselves and others about the experiences of our LGBTQIA+ peers, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and accepting society for all. Let us strive to be allies and advocates, and support efforts to end discrimination and promote equality for the LGBTQIA+ community within our own communities and beyond.

We need your help!

The SAPHA Research Committee is building a repository of South Asian public health topics and of authors conducting related research that will be accessible on our website. We are also seeking any information about student researchers conducting South Asian public health research to highlight during AAPI month in May. Please fill out this google form if you have any suggestions.

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