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Sushama Kirtikar

On the heels of my call last month for a movement of mental health to sweep the community, I want to reinforce the urgency. The model minority myth is a yoke around our necks that we haven’t even begun to recognize fully. Its weight is pulling us under faster than we can utter ‘model minority.’ It represents Asian Americans as immigrants who are highly educated, successful, happy and healthy, with a strong work ethic, family stability and low crime rate. It is well meant, it is a compliment, yes. But it amounts to ethnic stereotyping that has the potential for more harm than good. It could create racial tension. It apoliticizes the group. It lulls one into thinking no leadership voice is required to stand up against marginalization or oppression. It certainly means many dire needs go unnoticed or ignored. We become underrepresented in the area of help-related services.

Indirectly it implies we require few if any mental health services. This is a travesty. What do we need to wake up to reality? Are we waiting for rates of violence, suicide, divorce, crime, delinquency, drug and alcohol addictions to climb up in our community before we are willing to do anything about it?

A 2005 study of over 100,000 subjects by Barreto and Segal showed that “early findings on the use of mental health services among Asian Americans indicate underutilization.” This means we do not use the resources available in the community to seek help because of “cultural incompatibility with services and avoidance of care by all but the most severely disturbed individuals.” In my clinical practice, I notice that if Indian Americans come in for help, they do so mostly after their situation has reached a sobering, severe level.

“It is often assumed that the disproportionately small number of Asian Americans utilizing mental health services is simply an effect of an overall lower incidence of mental health. However, low demand … is not necessarily reflective of low need,” says Heather Speller in ‘Asian Americans and Mental Health.’ Now, if you wish to split hairs, you may say that the Asian American studies include but do not represent the Indian American community accurately. You are right and by the same token you are erroneous if you believe we are impervious to mental illness or related distress. That is yet another myth that needs to be debunked. Look around you. How many people do you know in your extended family or friend circle who has been suspected of some mental distress? Did they seek help? Did you encourage them to? Are they better, or the same, or worse?

Those of you who wish to bury your heads in the sand may quickly dismiss these as being paltry few isolated cases that have nothing to do with the educated and sophisticated class of Indian Americans that comprise the larger part of this community. Wrong. You would be surprised how much dysfunction goes on behind closed doors of well-heeled homes and well-manicured yards. Mental illness is an equal opportunity guest that knocks on any door and shows no discrimination. It affects anyone irrespective of education, socioeconomic status, race, gender, profession, etc. Therefore, let us not be misled into thinking it is subtle, or selective or discreet. It is not. It is widespread and as blatant as the nose in front of your face. It is there at the workplace in the cubicle next to yours. It was there at the last party you attended at a friend’s place. Does that give you goose bumps? Well then, let us unite in our efforts to no longer speak in hushed whispers. Let us use our everyday voices when talking about a mental problem. Let us demystify it and make it as acceptable as any run-of-the-mill physical problem.

Thomas Friedman, The New York Times columnist, says, “America’s standing in the Arab-Muslim world is now very low – partly because we have not told our story very well.” Well, we have not told the story of mental health very well either. It is no wonder that it has such a blemish on it. It is time to tell its story.

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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