Haathi in the Room Inc. held a Photovoice Exhibition on 17 October to mark Mental Health Month. The forum gave us an opportunity to raise awareness within the community around mental health and wellbeing.
Each day in Australia more than 8 people die by suicide. 3 million Australians are living with anxiety or depression which can affect any of us at any time regardless of our culture and background. What is worse is that 54% of people with mental illness do not access any treatment – treatment which is readily available with many initial counselling sessions covered by Medicare. South Asians are considerably less likely to seek help for mental health conditions compared to the rest of the Australian population
Mental Health is defined as “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to their community”. Life events such as loss of a partner, recent migration, redundancy, major health setbacks, recent bushfire and most recently COVID 19 Pandemic can affect mental health and wellbeing. There is a rife stigma attached to mental illness and little open discussion within our community associated with shame/‘sharam’. Those who suffer are often labelled as either “weak” or “stupid” and their concerns are often unrecognized and ignored.
Haathi in the Room’s vision is to start the conversation, and reduce the stigma around mental illness in the South Asian community. We wish to give a voice to the “Haathi in the Room” – Poor Mental Health and Wellbeing is the elephant in the room which we can all see but do nothing about. We wish to encourage our community to recognise the importance of early intervention and the need to provide support to sufferers just as we do for physical health conditions.
Haathi in the Room used PhotoVoice as the method of discussion at the Forum. PhotoVoice is a powerful photographic and storytelling technique – as they say a photo tells a thousand words. PhotoVoice is an empowering and flexible process that combines photography with grassroots social action and is commonly used in the fields of public health and education.
PhotoVoice participants can include community members of all ages and status including those who are discriminated against due to language, gender, race, class and disability. Through their photos, participants bring new insights and perspectives which raise awareness of hidden or overlooked issues and aspects specific to the community. The narratives from the photos can then be used to promote dialogue, to better understand triggers, reduce community barriers and help develop effective solutions and programs to address the identified issues and concerns.
The Forum was a great way to start the conversation and raise awareness of the social context of mental health and wellbeing within our community. It helped identify the triggers in our community – how do attitudes within our community and lack of understanding of mental health and wellbeing impact people’s ability to cope with the normal stressors in life?
PhotoVoice participants were trained by Multicultural Health Communication Services who provided expert advice and valuable guidance. The PhotoVoice Project and Forum was funded by Multicultural NSW.
Charishma Kaliyanda – elected councillor for Liverpool City Council, Occupational Therapist and Community Engagement Officer for Headspace Campbelltown was the keynote speaker at the Forum. As a member of the Strategic Advisory Committee of the National Grown Areas Alliance, (NGAA), Charishma has put mental health and youth infrastructure on the agenda for Australia’s fast growing outer urban areas. Charishma provided valuable insights into her own journey since arriving in Australia and provided excellent tips on how to deal with the day to day stressors. Her insights resonated with the audience.
The Forum was well attended and the Haathi in the Room team received excellent feedback from the attendees.
Haathi in the Room team members are: Nitasha Bhatia, Vidhisha Khetwani, Monica Das, Megha Agarwal and Sue Advani.
For more information please visit Haathi in the Room Facebook page.
For mental health help reach out to:
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14, Beyond Blue:1300 224 636 and NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511