Catalysts for Change: Mentors Reaching Out in Mental Health Spaces

Reach Out Together's logo, "together" in American Sign Language, in an orange circle, to represent our goal: healing the world together.

Reach Out Together’s logo, showing the hand sign for “together” in American Sign Language, within an orange circle. In colour therapy, orange represents warmth and healing. The circle represents the world.

Sanjana Srikant, Research Assistant at the University of Waterloo & advocate for women in STEM, mental health, and global cooperation.

Sanjana Srikant, Research Assistant at the University of Waterloo, and self-styled “advocate of global cooperation”.

Toronto-based Reach Out Together Foundation is joined by coaches & community leaders this month to tackle mental health stigma across cultures & countries.

Having a mental health professional to work with does not take away from the support of your personal network.”

— Sanjana Srikant, Research Assistant at the University of Waterloo

TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA, August 31, 2021 / — Many coaches help others stay in shape. Some, though, are uniquely focused on mental health. Toronto-based not-for-profit Reach Out Together Foundation offers a platform for such coaches as they teach practices for maintaining positive mental health.

In this month’s instalments of the Mental Health Impact Series, founder Aanchal Vash and her team of volunteers spoke with some community leaders about their personal journeys and what mentorship, or a support network, means for them.

Emmy-nominated composer and Music Therapist Donald Stevens recently faced depression concurrent with recovery from COVID-19.

A father of three, born and raised in White Plains, N.Y., Stevens describes himself as “a lover of people.” He has used music in his mentorship work, including his work with persons diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. “I believe that we all have a special need,” he says.

In an interview for Reach Out Together’s Mental Health Impact Series, Stevens credits several things with aiding his pursuit of a positive mindset: In place of overeating, Stevens urged himself to turn to self-talk, journaling, writing, and above all music, which he says is “something we all can relate to…a universal language.”

After graduating top of his class at NYU, working in the field for 13 years and coaching successful upstarts, Stevens explains how first-hand experience of mentorship put his own experience in a new perspective.

“We’re a vessel of change. We’re a catalyst of change. Things that happen to me are happening FOR me, so that I can help others…We have to go through something so that we can help others go through their things, as well.”

Stevens adds that a crucial step was opening up. Expression was a gateway to adaptation.

This is an example of Self-Awareness Transformational Coach Abida Rahman’s core concept: “innerstanding”.

Also an educator, speaker & author of Body, Mind & Spiritual Alignment, Rahman defines innerstanding as doing the work of getting to know yourself on a deeper level, “applying what you understand, and then evolving”. In other words, it means being aware of what you need to do, and then holding yourself accountable to a goal for personal growth.

Rahman lives and works in Toronto, but her background is also Bangladeshi. In that cultural community, she says, there’s a need for more language and willingness to empower discussions of mental health and well-being.

This extends to more direct personal experience. Rahman says, “I got to witness, growing up, how it impacts you as a human being when you don’t take accountability.”

Rahman’s view of mentorship is that accountability is something to encourage in others, not impose, because only by embracing it can a person achieve personal growth.

“As a real teacher, you’re not going to solve their problems for them. You want them to come to their own solutions on their own accord.”

Sanjana Srikant, a Research Assistant at the University of Waterloo, takes a special interest in translation studies in cancer, regenerative medicine, and pediatric healthcare. She is also a supporter of conversations around mental health.

Srikant describes moving from Chennai, India, to Toronto to begin her studies as a transformative experience. She says there was a noticeable shift in the presence and tone of conversations about mental well-being.

“Up to that point, while I had been aware of the mental health challenges that were affecting me, I didn’t really have much of a vocabulary for them, or a space to converse about them.”

Srikant calls for a two-pronged approach of both building a supportive network and community, and seeking medical guidance from a family physician or other qualified medical professional.

“Having a mental health professional to work with does not take away from the support of your personal network,” she says.

While describing her own experiences with panic disorder, Srikant says anxiety manifests differently for different people, and the key is an honest and ongoing dialogue to ensure each person has the confidence to pursue what works for them. She adds that this can reinforce our own pursuit of well-being.

“We need to treat ourselves with the same compassion and empathy that we would show someone else going through the same thing.”

A Chennai-based design entrepreneur and Creative Associate at Spring Marketing Capital, Kaveri Zachariah, echoes this message.

“Love yourself unconditionally,” she says, adding that with “the right amount of support” and a willingness to acknowledge and engage with our emotions, we can work through trauma and achieve success.

Zachariah has also been through recovery from COVID-19 and the concurrent mental health impacts of depression in its wake. Speaking about the brain-gut connection, she stresses the role of medication working together with therapy and other support. Normalizing medication is one of the key systemic changes she’d like to see in Indian and worldwide approaches to mental health.

According to Zachariah, psychologists & psychiatrists have made themselves accessible in Chennai in the wake of demands brought by the ongoing pandemic. However, there’s a barrier in our informal networks that she highlights as still requiring attention.

“Breaking the family barrier is step one,” she says, noting that people in our family and non-professional support networks can be well-meaning but not necessarily well-informed. She believes self-advocacy can work to change that.

Zachariah recalls sharing her story on social media two years ago, while off of medication. Some wondered at her openness and the impression of her it would create, but Zachariah herself is determined to destigmatize mental health disorders and to show other women facing similar challenges that they, too, can succeed.

“I’m grateful now because I had the right amount of support, the right amount of people who understood my situation,” she says.

Zachariah’s message to others is, “Show up for your emotions.” She believes that acknowledging the full range of our feelings and working through our challenges is necessary for personal growth.

We experience trauma in our own way, but, she says, “We can work past it, and mobilize ourselves even on the darkest days.”

Bradley Northcote
Reach Out Together Foundation
+1 647-464-2134
email us here

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