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  • Writer's pictureHarjot Sidhu

A CONVERSATION ABOUT PUNJABI MENTAL HEALTH, WITH TARAKI FOUNDER SHURANJEET SINGH

FOR THE FULL CONVERSATION, WHICH INCLUDES MUCH MORE, CLICK HERE> FOR THE AUDIO VERSION AND DOWNLOAD ON YOUR PREFERRED PLATFORM.


OR, SEARCH “LONDON WRITING GUY” WHEREVER YOU GET YOUR PODCASTS AND SUBSCRIBE / FOLLOW


TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses topics related to depression and anxiety.

Mental health is a topic that can stir a lot of thought. A lot of emotion. A lot of hesitation. I hesitate writing this intro, because the subject matter isn’t exactly an easy one. But one thing we don’t do enough is talk about mental health. Especially not within South Asian communities and especially not within Punjabi communities. Some may attribute this to the negative stigmas associated to talking about mental health. Shuranjeet, the founder of Taraki, says it’s about more than that. “Stigma absolutely exists. But…Stigma is often used to put blame back onto communities. There are a lot of other obstacles and blockers that exist. There are systems that just don’t work. What I always say to folks is make sure we talk about stigma as well as other obstacles.”

Taraki is a not-for-profit organisation that works with Punjabi communities to reshape approaches to mental health. Using a non-clinical but community-centred approach, Taraki supports people with their mental health and well-being. It’s a unique and incredibly useful approach, as it can be taken forward by anyone and everyone. “Ultimately it’s about nurturing genuine and connective relationships between people. Building that trust. Building that authenticity and building that space to talk openly,” Shuranjeet says.


Taraki’s origin story starts with Shuranjeet moving to University. A big moment in many people’s lives, as it’s often first time they’ve lived away from home. Liberating for some. Daunting for others. Shuranjeet fell into the latter. Feeling like he “stuck out like a sore thumb,” he created two versions of himself. It wasn’t until he spoke to one of his housemates, who listened and was able to connect to as an equal, that he felt he was able to move past the anxiety and self-esteem issues. “There are plenty of folks in our communities who are experiencing similar kinds of challenges but don’t have access to the support that they need.” Even with mental health being in the public eye, Shuranjeet realised that the communications just weren’t getting through to “the men in our communities. There was something that was stopping the conversation from happening and stopping our communities from moving forward.”

Some of the obstacles stopping these conversations have nothing to do with circumstances today. Shuranjeet explains to me how things like the impact of migration and the colonial era are just a few of the reasons for these obstacles. Taraki’s approach takes all of this into account. They have developed and run support groups for Punjabi men, Punjabi women and Punjabi LGBTQ+ groups, to name just a few. The approach also considers the nuances of how to initiate open conversations. “If you’re speaking with someone who is displaying challenging or harmful behaviours, and you’re perceived as lecturing them on what they’re doing is wrong, that can actually lead to an adverse effect. We just ask questions.” Shuranjeet exudes warmth. Even his email sign-off fills you with that little nudge you might need to push you through your day and remind you that there is a lot of good in the world. I see this in the DNA built into Taraki’s work. “We see conversations and action around mental health as a force for unification, as a force for connection, as a force for developing compassion, empathy and ultimately a love for our fellow people. To be able to connect with your own mental health and your own mental well-being and connect with other people requires a realisation of humanness. At the base of our work it’s about rekindling and reconnecting with that sense of shared humanity.”



One of the things that stuck out to me the most when talking to Shuranjeet was the central idea of connections. Whether that’s connecting people to each other, or connecting people with the help they need. “We understand the importance and power of people.” Initiatives such as the Mixy & Chill Community is a testament to that. I almost see it as the South Asian community’s own barbershop moment. “It’s ultimately a way that Desi pubs and bars can become more responsive to the wellbeing of their customers.” The idea is simple. A QR code is added to the menu of popular mixed grill and pub venues, which then directs people to community based healthcare and wellbeing resources. In the last year, over 2,000 people have scanned and accessed these resources. With the next step being to train staff, who can then have conversations around mental health more confidently, Taraki is creating the necessary touch points needed to ensure the most essential conversation is happening in as many places as possible…and that is the conversation around mental health.

FOR THE FULL CONVERSATION, WHICH INCLUDES MUCH MORE, CLICK HERE> FOR THE AUDIO VERSION AND DOWNLOAD ON YOUR PREFERRED PLATFORM.

OR, SEARCH “LONDON WRITING GUY” WHEREVER YOU GET YOUR PODCASTS AND SUBSCRIBE / FOLLOW TO KEEP UP TO DATE WITH NEW CONTENT

FOLLOW TARAKI ONLINE


If you feel you've been impacted by any of what you have read, you can contact Taraki via their website. Or, see below for additional resources:

  • https://www.samaritans.org/ - Samaritans offer listening and support to people and communities in times of need. They give people ways to cope and the skills to be there for others, as well as encourage, promote and celebrate those moments of connection between people that can save lives.

  • https://www.mind.org.uk/ - Mind is a mental health charity who provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.

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