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Sushama Kirtikar

The Asian American Heritage Month fact sheet, May 2007, indicates that there are currently 2,319,222 Asian Indians residing in the United States, second only to the Chinese population of 2,797,966. Impressed? Now, consider another statistic. In 2005, an estimated 24,600,000 adults in the U.S. reportedly experienced some form of ‘serious psychological distress.’ This is a staggering number. In this incomprehensibly large number, there must have been thousands of Asian Indians suffering from some mental illness as well. We are not impervious to it as many may want to hallucinate. The time has come for us to shatter the hard glass encrusted stigma that surrounds the issue of mental health problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in its annual survey, that though 85 percent of Americans believe people are not to be blamed for their mental illness, only 26 percent believe that people are empathic towards the afflicted. This is a large schism between attitude and behavior. It appears we are able to puff up and get sanctimonious in our speech but are unable to actually follow through with our actions. The balloon of righteousness deflates fast, doesn’t it?

In December 2006, a multimedia, national public awareness campaign was launched to combat the negative attitudes about mental illness. The public service ads read “Mental Illness: What a Difference a Friend Makes” according to Angela Kennedy of ‘Counseling Today,’ January 2007. The destigmatizating strategy involved encouraging youngsters (18- to 25-year-olds) to befriend and support their peers who they knew were suffering psychologically. Instead of pontificating on the ills of ostracizing people with mental illness, the approach was to educate the target population on the virtues of friendship in recovery. The buddy system has always been touted as a highly effective game plan from classroom, to scout camp to corporate boardroom.

What if we Indian Americans were to employ the same strategy to shred the thick shroud of ignorance and fear? If each of us took a moment to appraise who we might know who suffers psychological distress and makes the resolve to offer support on a regular basis, we might create a swell of wellness. The person who is writhing under the cloud of mental illness may feel empowered to seek help as s/he feels accepted and validated. Imagine that! How powerful that would be to be part of a cultural revolution to sweep the entire area.

You might ask, “What is required of me? What difference can I make? Me?” Yes, yes, you. You need a non-judgmental attitude, a willingness to listen, a desire to help, and the ability to nudge the person to seek professional help. That is all. Surely we all come equipped with these standard features. You do not need to learn new skills; no fancy add-ons are required.

The Web site offers an interactive video clip that helps you understand the role you could play. It states, “By an overwhelming majority (51 percent), individuals with mental health problems approach family and friends first for help.” Like it or not, tag, you are it. You are that friend or family member. Coming from a culture that is one of the most ancient in the world, we could be one of the first to divest ourselves of fossilized stigmas that serve no purpose whatsoever in today’s day and age. We could be trailblazers in ripping the veil of darkness off of mental illness boldly and accepting it openly. Come join me in this movement: the mental health march is on. “We are taking new volunteers. Apply within.”

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran

There are many organizations in the Tampa Bay area that focus on helping special needs children but the one organization that everyone should know about it is STAND (Statewide Advocacy Network on Disabilities Inc.) This not-for-profit organization, which has been around since December 1996, was organized by a group of parents and attorneys to help educate people on their rights.

STAND's purpose it to inform the families of children with disabilities of their rights. It is dedicated to getting a child with a disability the right education that they are entitled to under the law. The three main laws that STAND is concerned with are: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973. It focuses on three topics: advocacy, legal rights, and above all, education.

This year, STAND will be hosting SPARC 2007 – Stand Pinellas Accessing Resource Conference. The organization’s goal is to provide parents, teachers, therapist and other professionals with resources that help children with disabilities make achievements in their life. STAND focuses on children with Special Needs and they take this mission very seriously.

This year SPARC 2007 will be held at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Pinellas Park, on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Morgan Fitzgerald is at 6410 118 Ave. N., Largo, FL 33773. Cost for the conference is $25 for pre-registration. That will include one entry to the conference, a lunch ticket and a program.

(Dr. Ram Ramcharran will be a guest speaker at the STAND event. He will be discussing how to better understand and deal with children with special needs. If you have any questions regarding this event, contact Melissa Tremblay, SPARC chairperson at (727) 784-8493 or visit

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at

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