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Manoshikh Shastho: A Laal Mental Health Initiative

মানসিক সাস্থ্য

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A Growing Mental Health Crisis

Over the past few months, through aid-based interactions, our team has realized the severity of the Bangladeshi womxn’s burden of taking care of their families — one further exacerbated by stay-at-home restrictions. As we combat this second, more deadly wave of the pandemic, we worry that these lifestyle changes will further isolate these womxn and take a toll on their mental health, even more than it already has. This burgeoning mental health crisis that is occurring alongside, and will continue long after, the COVID-19 pandemic, is being referred to as a psychological pandemic. Coupled with increased stress from financial instability, preexisting mental health issues, food insecurity, and so forth, the psychological pandemic poses a serious threat to our community of Bengali womxn and has shown to manifest into situations of abuse and unsafe household conditions. Thus, at Laal, we are dedicated to supporting our womxn through this by playing our part in breaking these notable cycles of violence and isolation.

This crisis is difficult enough to mitigate and is only further complicated by the fact that, in the Bengali community, mental health is a topic that remains both unaddressed and highly stigmatized. Mental illness is often attributed to possession, spirits, or superstition, making this an exceptionally difficult topic to address in Bengali immigrant and intergenerational families. With these factors in mind, Laal is launching this mental health initiative to combat these stigmas and connect our womxn to safe spaces, resources, and each other. Laal’s team has already begun to navigate this culturally nuanced issue by establishing and nurturing a strong relationship over the past year with these womxn and their families; working with them to navigate difficult conversations ranging from financial hardship to familial deaths, and domestic violence. This uniquely positions us to work with them through this psychological pandemic and address the topic of mental health and cultural reluctance that many in the community face.

62% of Bengali womxn spend more than 8 hours alone

58% of womxn reported facing financial hardships since the onset of COVID-19

How is Laal Allocating Resources?

For this initiative, Laal will conduct a carefully designed assessment survey of 300 womxn, using materials accessible entirely in Bangla and Sylheti, the Bengali dialect most spoken in Norwood. Laal will then further conduct in-depth, hour-long, qualitative interviews with 10% of participants to collect additional qualitative data about the long-term psychological impacts and analyze all findings through a holistic lens. Working from a place of community and trust-based healing, Laal aims to break a cycle of mental health stigma at its roots as well as produce unique data that can be used in health policy initiatives that prioritize mental health issues amongst marginalized communities, such as ours. Our culturally nuanced approach to navigating these terms includes providing actionable exercises and activities — consisting of context-specific triggers, prompts, and questions for discussion — that participants can undertake at home, with their families, and also in small group settings.

In addition to disseminating educational resources and facilitating opportunities for engagement, this project is one of the primary steps towards laying a foundation to enable conversations around mental health to be more accessible by all, irrespective of external factors. We hope to dismantle the community-wide aversion to mental healthcare, therapy, and healing by providing the womxn with professional therapists who are able to speak in their own language and dialect. This multi-faceted approach will also incorporate educational advocacy and outreach through custom focus groups, ensuring that the team will be equipped with the resources necessary to sustain long-term advocacy and education for change.

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