Meet Your Neighbors: Parijat Deshpande
By bayareadesi team on 14 Feb 2011
Born and raised in bay area, Parijat is a psychologist, educator, captivating speaker, a trained marriage & family therapist and founder of MySahana organization. She has made it her mission to spread awareness about mental health issues in the South Asian community. Parijat talks to Bay Area Desi about all things Bay!
Tell us little bit about yourself
I grew up with my father who is an engineer, my mother who was an accountant prior to my birth and a younger brother. Rumor has it that I began talking at a very young age and would talk and ask questions incessantly! Dance played a large role in my life growing up. I tried ballet and tap before I found bharatanatyam, which I did for over 10 years. I did my arangetram (first solo performance) while in high school and that was one of my most favorite days of my life! I also have choreographed Indian folk and bollywood dances since I was 13 years old. From UC Berkeley, I obtained my BA in Psychology and from San Francisco State I earned an MS in Clinical Psychology and am a Marriage and Family Therapist intern. Since graduating from graduate school, I have taught a couple of psychology courses at SF State and several more courses at UC Berkeley. Currently I am the Founder and Executive Director of MySahana and a Psychology lecturer at UC Berkeley.
What do you like about the area?
I’ve been in the Bay Area my entire life. I have had several opportunities to leave but in the end was never able to do it because I love it here so much. I love how we have everything just at our fingertips. Two hours in any direction and you could be at the beach, in the mountains or in the redwood forest. I am especially fond of the diversity here and how many different types of people you can meet so easily.
What are your favorite places to eat? Activities? Places to go?
My most favorite Italian restaurant is Firenze by Night in the city. I used to frequent Ocean Beach while in grad school. It was a great place to unwind from my internships and watch the dogs run around! I definitely have a soft spot for Berkeley and love hanging out downtown especially on a beautiful day. I also like to go hiking, biking and spending time walking through Golden Gate Park.
I absolutely love going to watch musicals! I also enjoy spending time with my friends, watching a movie or going to a museum. I love looking for cute cafés in different cities and am on a perpetual hunt to find the best sushi restaurant!
Besides work, what organizations or groups are you a part of?
I am a supporter of performances of the arts such as dance or singing shows. I grew up attending and performing in events hosted by the Maharashtra Mandal. I also try to take advantage of the diversity in the Bay Area and attend non South Asian festivals and events as well to learn about the different cultures that exist here.
Why and how did you start MySahana?
When I decided to major in psychology, I noticed that South Asian friends and family friends would confide in me more about what they were going through in their life. Having only an undergraduate degree in psychology did not qualify me to do much more than listen so I decided that once I obtained a graduate degree. Very early during my internships while in grad school I realized how infrequently South Asians seek therapy. I did extensive literature searches and found very little research on mental health in the South Asian community. In addition, there seemed to be a lack of information on both ends – the South Asian community about mental health and the mental health community about South Asian culture.
What made me officially decide to start the organization was when I learned that nontraditional therapy techniques worked better with the few South Asian clients I had seen than the traditional ones. It clued me in that 1) misunderstanding about mental health needed to be addressed and corrected and 2) the way to do that was by explaining it in a language that South Asians could relate to.
What is MySahana’s goal?
It is to spread awareness about mental health issues, correct misinformation and reduce the stigma in the South Asian community. We will have reached our goal when South Asians talk about mental health issues with each other as easily as they talk about back aches and fatigue, when they understand what therapy is and when to seek help.
What are some of the Myths / Facts about Health that you have come across?
Myth: When you’re depressed, you feel sad and cry a lot.
Truth: Not everyone feels sad or cries when they’re depressed. In fact, the most common symptom of depression in South Asians is headaches. Other symptoms can include, back ache, gastrointestinal problems, lacking interest in activities, fatigue or insomnia, changes in eating patterns, etc.
Myth: Mental health issues are not as serious as physical issues, such as heart disease.
Truth: More and more research is showing that many physical ailments such as heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes have a mental health component to them. For example, chronic stress and anxiety has been linked to high blood pressure, low HDL, high triglycerides, and lowered immunity. Not addressing the mental health risk factor can be the reason why some of these physical ailments are so difficult to recover from.
And the list goes on…
Is it true that the food we eat affects how our mood?
Yes. How we feel affects what we eat and what we eat affects how we feel. It’s a cycle that can have profound effects on our mental and physical health. For example, when you break up with a significant other and are feeling down, you’re more likely to reach for the ice cream or the chips. The sugar high or the large amounts of salt that are in these foods alter your brain chemistry and can actually perpetuate your feelings of sadness or depression. On the flip side, certain foods have natural properties to alleviate mental health symptoms, such as bananas which can reduce anxiety and stress.
Do you feel locals have been supportive of your endeavor?
Yes very much! We are getting a great response from Bay Area South Asians! People have been doing a great job of sending us emails with their stories of how MySahana has helped them, which is extremely rewarding to read. Several local organizations have expressed interest in supporting our endeavor, as well.
What challenges or difficulties are you facing?
We are trying to increase reader engagement even more and are looking for different ways to encourage readers to send us more feedback, leave more comments on the website and engage on our social media accounts (e.g. Facebook and Twitter). We are also awaiting tax-exempt certification, which should come in anytime now. Once we receive that, we will be able to raise funds and help MySahana grow and reach even more readers!
How can bay area locals get involved in MySahana?
We are looking for volunteers. Information about volunteer opportunities is at www.mysahana.org/volunteer-with-us. We are also looking for sponsors, partner organizations as well as individuals who can provide donations to help us run the organization. Until we can collect funds, we are taking donation pledges.
What does future holds for you?
I’m really excited to see MySahana grow. Fundraising and reaching thousands more South Asians than we are right now is definitely high on my list. I’m also looking forward to starting South Asian workshops on different mental health. I’ve learned so much and met such incredible people while starting this nonprofit, so I look forward to continuing to learn and meet inspiring people along the way.
If you had one piece of advice for South Asians, what would it be?
South Asian culture has numerous strengths such as valuing interconnectedness, family, education, as well as compassion for others. Use these strengths to educate yourself about mental health, be honest when you see it in your life, be kind to your loved ones who are living with mental health issues and encourage them to get the support that they need. As an individual you can create a lot more change and empower so many more people than you think.