By Paul Clark

Angie Agrawal Holstein has been a Social Worker-Psychotherapist for the last twenty years. She currently has two clinics. One focuses on the treatment of trauma, and the other, Shanti Psychotherapy, which is a newer practice that is ethno-specific, delving into mental health and wellness. Shanti Psychotherapy specializes in South Asian Mental Health Care, and is inclusive to all other communities. It aims to make therapy accessible, private, culturally sound, de-stigmatizing, compassionate, and comfortable for those struggling with mental health issues, wellness, or any of life’s challenges.

“Some ethnicities have higher risk factors for mental health issues, especially those involving generational trauma,” Angie explains. “People who came from oppression and war-torn countries due to partition or colonial invasion, experienced much psychological distress, anxiety of death and violence and poverty to the citizens—these traumas, as research in epigenetics indicates, can be passed down within the DNA for up to three generations. 

Society’s propensity for stigmatizing mental illness is a problem medical practitioners face when treating clients and patients, as people tend to survive by hiding their misery and psychological distress. As research indicates, mental health issues in South Asian populations tend to appear more somatically, manifested as physical symptoms such as chronic headache, stomach pain, nausea, autoimmune conditions, PCOS etc. This has been correlated to stigma and limited mental health awareness.

Statistics indicate that one in five Canadians experience some kind of mental issue in their lifetime. “Canada is a well-developed country of varied cultures,” Angie explains. “In developed countries such as Canada, individuals tend to have a growth mindset focused on productivity. “Be better; be thinner; be beautiful; be wealthier; be perfect!” These become part of the ethos of our society, and the pressure to cope and keep up masks of perfection is tremendous. Seldom do people talk about self care, taking time for self, meditation and healthy sleep. The Covid pandemic became the harbinger of sleep disorders and increased risk factors for family violence, isolation and mental health disorders. When people have poor quality of sleep or sleep deprivation, mood, anxiety, and stress increase.

“The pandemic and post-pandemic made our lives awry,” Angie said. “Worldwide inflation, lack of resources, and long wait times for medical and mental health care impacted the overall mental health of citizens.

Angie explains, “Psychotherapy can support many aspects of one’s life from mental health problems, work life balance, life transitions, relationship issues, childhood and adult trauma as well as dealing with stress. Together in therapy, clients and their clinicians can explore the underlying causes, increase coping strategies and have healthier thought patterns about self and others. We look at interventions, such as sleep, exercise, stress management, reframing negative thoughts and beliefs and identifying life purposes for example. We can build in time for relaxation and, most importantly, social and family connectedness. We cannot only focus on IQ (Intelligence quotient) or growth. Equally important is to focus on our emotional health or EQ (Emotional intelligence) as, IQ + EQ = mental capacity and balance. People can regulate their emotions through meditation, prayer, self compassion, exercise, connectedness, and self-persuasion. Talking to our children creates the crucial connection for the next generation to create a more balanced lifestyle by valuing both achievements and emotional health.” 

For the young people: “Take care of your emotional health, challenge your vulnerability, know it’s normal to have struggles, find good friends, have regular check ups with your doctor and cultivate healthy family relationships. Don’t isolate yourself, manage stress, and know you’re not alone.”

Angie’s inspiration is her parents and grandparents. “Now, my role as a mother is the most important one for me. I’m always there for my children and my partner of 25 years. I let them know I’m here, that it’s okay to struggle, and you don’t have to be perfect as there is no such thing as perfection. I can only be as good for others as I am to myself. I exercise, commune with nature with my dog, have time alone, see friends and my family, and cultivate joy. Daily, I write down three things that gave me joy in my joy journal. When I interact with my kids, and we have eye-to-eye contact, laughing, that’s an example of a moment I write down. Other examples of joy being when I come home, and my big dog comes towards me with a wagging tail, walking in the garden even when it’s raining and seeing the beautiful flowers in bloom – all moments to notice and write down. Later, I can look back by reading about the joy I felt, especially during times of struggle. Know that it’s normal to feel anxiety, worry, sadness—and to cope with all the various emotions that we experience on any given day.