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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

MDABC South Asia Program

Tammy Iny

Reprinted from the "Culture" issue of Visions Journal, 2014, 9 (4), p. 23-24

The Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia (MDABC) provides culturally relevant information, support and education about mood disorders and other mental illnesses to the South Asian community in Surrey and Delta. The cities of Surrey and Delta have combined populations of 568,114 people;1 roughly 26% of the residents (147,709) are South Asian.2 Given that we know the incidence of mental illness is 20% of all Canadians,3 we estimate there are almost 30,000 South Asians needing services and resources in Surrey/Delta. Toward that end, we provide information sessions, education groups, radio and television presence and online resources in the Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu languages.

MCABC has offered depression and anxiety education groups for the South Asian community since 2006. The groups are open, which means they are free of charge. There is no registration or referral required, participants can attend as many sessions as they like, and they can begin attending at any point in time.

The groups are facilitated, in Punjabi, by psychologist Dr. Rajpal Singh, and they meet at the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society in Surrey. There have been separate groups for South Asian women and men, as is culturally relevant and historically correct—South Asian women and men have been separated in certain circumstances for many generations. When it comes to topics like illnesses and sexuality, South Asian women and men choose to deal with these concerns within their gender group.

For the purposes of the MDABC South Asian education groups, both groups have been professionally led by male facilitators. This is because, in the South Asian community, education is respected. If there was a South Asian woman psychologist with comparable education available, she would be welcome to facilitate either a men’s or women’s group. This issue is about South Asian people’s respect of professionalism, not disrespect of gender. Since 2011 only the women’s group has been offered. This change was due to loss of a meeting room, and attendance clearly indicated that Punjabi women were in need of the groups more than the men. However, Dr. Singh continues to seek meeting space for the men’s group.

In terms of content for the education group, Dr. Singh uses a combination of group cognitive-behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy techniques. The Punjabi groups differ from other MDABC support groups in that there is a formal educational component rather than just peer support. This style of group reaches members of the community who because of stigma might not attend a peer-led support group. Dr. Singh finds that the South Asian community is more trusting and comfortable attending these groups because he is a mental health professional.

In our efforts to engage the South Asian community, Dr. Singh thought that public forums on mood disorders were needed. The stigma in the South Asian community is such that any discussion of mental illness needed to be brought to the community by professionals so the information would be trusted by the community. The public forums drew potential group members. Since the inception of the program, there has been no trouble filling spots in these groups, which have had an average of over 20 participants per session.

As well as providing education events about mood disorders, we also have TV and radio programming aimed at the South Asian community. All these outreach methods have been made possible with funding from BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information with some generous donations of air time by media outlets, as well as assistance from other concerned professionals.

The first education event in 2006 was held in Surrey and was advertised through word of mouth and the MDABC website. It was presented in the Punjabi language. This event drew 74 attendees. In 2010 the attendance at a similar education event increased to 280 people from the South Asian community. This jump in attendance confirmed the need for mental health service in this community.

In terms of other members of the South Asian community, the MDABC hired a coordinator to reach out to Muslim women. Again, the method of connection has been to provide education events, then create groups. The MDABC has held education events in the Urdu-speaking community, and provides mental health information sheets in Urdu on our website. We are still in the education stage of our outreach; education groups will follow in the future.

A variety of strategies have been adopted for effectively reaching and disseminating information to the South Asian community. We have created mental health information packages containing mental health facts and resources; these are regularly dropped off at local businesses. We collaborate with Surrey family doctors to present mental health information to their South Asian patients. These family doctors also participate as presenters in the education groups and as guest presenters on our television appearances. Drs. Ayesha Afzal and Malek Moosa, two female Muslim family doctors, also contribute to the cause.

MDABC has regularly had information tables and booths at a variety of venues, including the Burnaby Mosque Health Fair, the IQRA Islamic School in Surrey and a UBC Muslim Youth Association event attended by 300 students and their families. We have also presented at the Canadian Society of Fiji Muslims family night event attended by 200 people (included a talk on depression by Dr. Singh) and at the Pakistan Canadian Cultural Association’s women-only Eid celebration attended by about 500 women.

In May 2013, Dr. Singh started a weekly appearance on JOY TV’s Harpreet Singh Show, which focuses on the positive contributions of Indo-Canadians to Canadian society. Dr. Singh discusses aspects of mental health, in the Punjabi language. Videos of these segments can be viewed on the MDABC website ( After a show is aired, Dr. Singh takes phone calls from viewers every Saturday between 3 and 5 p.m., answering questions in the Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English languages.

In addition to TV, Dr. Singh also speaks to the community through his one-hour monthly interactive radio show on RED 93.1 FM, a South Asian Broadcasting Corporation station. The program is called Roshni, presented in the Punjabi language.

Because mental health treatment translates differently across communities, it is vital that resources be made available to people in their respective languages and suited to cultural traditions. The MDABC has worked hard over the past few years to develop capacity within the South Asian community to help and support its members who suffer from mood and other mental disorders.

About the author

Tammy, at 33 years old, has been treated for depression, anxiety and, most recently, bipolar disorder. She volunteers at the Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia, where she is an office greeter. Tammy lives in Vancouver

  1. City population: Canada: British Columbia. (2014).
  2. Province of British Columbia, Multicultural and Immigration Branch. (2008). The diversity of visible minorities and ethnic origin in BC [Census fact sheet].
  3. Canadian Mental Health Association. (2014). Fast facts about mental illness.

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