Guest Blog: Dr. Vasudev Makhija: SAMHIN – An Empowering Journey

In keeping with PRMS’ mission to support the greater behavioral health community, we invited Vasudev Makhija, MD, DLFAPA, founder and president of the South Asian Mental Health Initiative and Network (SAMHIN), and a past president of the New Jersey Psychiatric Association (NJPA), to share more about SAMHIN, its current projects, and future plans. PRMS is proud to support SAMHIN’s mission to support mental health awareness and assistance among South Asian communities.

The South Asian Mental Health Initiative and Network (SAMHIN), a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, was launched in 2014 to address a broad range of mental health needs within the South Asian community in the United States. SAMHIN’s mission is to educate, engage and empower this community in order to promote mental health literacy, decrease stigma, and improve access to culturally competent care.

Since SAHMIN’s launch, we have participated in more than 100 free public outreach events, including mental health screenings at health fairs, lectures, seminars, and workshops, as well as television and radio programs. SAMHIN’s team of volunteer clinicians strives to improve people’s understanding of mental illness, address stigma, and dispel myths about mental illness, addiction, suicide, and available treatments. After mental health screenings, guidance and referrals are provided as needed. Educational articles on mental health are made available through South Asian publications and the SAMHIN blog. Recently, we launched the SAMHIN YouTube channel to share useful information about mental illness, addiction and suicide with viewers.

SAMHIN also conducts two weekly support groups, both of which are currently offered virtually. The first one, Janani, is a support group for anyone who has lost someone to suicide. The second, a South Asian Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, is for anyone struggling with alcohol abuse issues who has a desire to quit – these meetings are run by recovering members of the AA.  

SAMHIN also offers a Help Line, in which individuals can call, text or email with their questions and discuss struggles with mental illness and addiction. The Help Line provides an opportunity for people to speak directly with a mental health clinician without having to make a formal appointment, which is especially important when there is a question of whether treatment is needed or when making such an appointment is avoided because of stigma.

When people reach out to us through the Help Line, the SAMHIN Team offers emotional support, guidance, and education about mental illness and available treatments. All this is offered confidentially without judgment. Assistance is provided with referrals for culturally competent care. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also seen a rise in cases of domestic violence in this community. When the survivors/victims call SAMHIN, we provide supportive information, guidance, and education about domestic violence, and we connect victims with local state-sponsored and/or South Asian domestic violence agencies and shelters available in the area.

People often have challenging experiences navigating the mental health system to get help for a loved one facing serious mental illness. The challenges are greater when the loved one refuses help because they are confused and experience a paralyzing sense of helplessness. This problem is compounded by the cultural factors in the South Asian community, which include: poor mental health literacy, language barriers, lack of understanding of the American culture, lack of awareness of existing resources, and struggles to navigate the complex maze of the mental health system. The problem is more acute in those who are recent immigrants.

Families reach out to us after running out of options when their loved one refuses treatment. Our team helps the families navigate the complex mental health system and connect them with local resources while providing the much-needed emotional support during the process. We help to increase their understanding of the various options for treatment (e.g., inpatient, outpatient, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), partial hospital programs (PHP), voluntary vs. involuntary treatments, and so on). It is a heart-breaking experience for the families to commit their loved ones to treatment against their will, but SAMHIN provides ongoing support and advocacy while guiding them through this difficult process. Individuals and families also have access to SAMHIN’s online resources, which are updated regularly.

Although this initiative initially focused on the South Asian community in New Jersey, SAMHIN has expanded the program nationally. We receive calls and emails from all over the country and have been featured in the Michigan-based online publication, The India Scene. Our next goal is to increase engagement with South Asian youth, including the second-generation South Asian Americans in the U.S.

Currently there is very little data on mental illness, addiction, tobacco use, and other challenges faced by South Asian people in the U.S., but SAMHIN is beginning to take steps to support research efforts that improve available data. This will help better address the needs of this community by taking a more targeted approach to education that improves mental health literacy, decreases barriers to seeking help, and decreases stigma.

SAMHIN relies on the generous support from many who believe in our vision, mission, and work. Professional Risk Management Services (PRMS) has provided ongoing support to SAMHIN since the time it was launched, and we at SAMHIN are grateful to the leadership of PRMS and its parent company, TransRe, for their support and all those who have believed in us and supported us.

If you are interested in joining SAMHIN’s mission or have questions about the organization, please contact Dr. Makhija at info@samhin.org. To learn more about SAMHIN, read Dr. Makhija’s guest post on the PRMS blog from 2016 here.

 

If you have any questions or are interested in receiving a quote, contact PRMS at (800) 245-3333 or TheProgram@prms.com.

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