Nalini remembers her childhood in colors. There was the occasional swash of Pepto-Bismol pink which decorated the walls of her neighbor’s home, the soft, mint green of her cousin’s favorite sweater. She especially missed the deep red kumkum powder used to mark the foreheads of her family. If her youth was comprised of color, though, her adolescence was defined by a lack of it.
At fourteen, her family left for America. While building a new life in a new country, her parents struggled to sustain Nalini and her little brothers. She recalls the thick layer of stress that seemed to permeate the walls of their apartment. Nevermind the gray, overcast days that hovered over their tiny New England town or the muted tones of washed-out beige and brown that repeated themselves throughout her residential area.
“I used to hate coming back home,” she explained. As she wrestled with the unfamiliar sounds of English, so, too, were her parents. “There was always so much tension… not because of one another––but at the same time, directed towards one another.” From having to complete homework in a second language to the pressures of building an entirely new social life, the emotions Nalini felt churning inside her stayed pent up and restricted. “I didn’t know how to express to my family the kind of isolation I felt. And I’m guessing as adults, my parents didn’t know how to do that with us kids.” Her father and mother had also grown up in the bustling, loud streets of South Asia for most of their lives, where generations of their families existed before. Uprooted from home, her parents had no other choice but to bear their own loneliness in quiet solitude as they dealt with the constant misunderstandings that arose from their accents, ethnicity, and being.
For many immigrants, Nalini’s family story is quite common. As Lauren Hodges observes in a recent piece for NPR, between working towards citizenship and undergoing the process for legal residency, immigration is an arduous and anxiety-inducing experience. Immigrants themselves deal with a variety of unique pressures that are conducive to mental health problems. Hodges mentions how issues like financial barriers, social stigma, and privacy concerns can all add up to prevent immigrants from being less likely to seek help when they need it. In turn, here’s a list of her suggestions and others’ for how to begin the search for counseling services:
- If you’re insured, your insurance company can provide a list of therapists that take your plan. Don’t be afraid to interview them beforehand; asking if they’ve had prior experience with your specific issue or community can make treatment all the more effective. Additional questions to consider are whether or not their available hours correspond to yours, what their areas of expertise are, and so on so forth. Look to the American Psychological Association for more suggestions on figuring out which practitioner is best for you.
- If you don’t have insurance, checking out your local college campus is a great way to begin. Most colleges have low-cost and sometimes free clinics with therapists in training. These resources can also exist in hospitals as well. For students, university counseling is usually free.
- If you’re operating on a tight budget, group therapy is also an affordable alternative that’s sometimes even free. Open Path Collective is an online source that advertises therapists who charge $30-$60 per session, with some professionals offering the option of a sliding scale fee. This means that their pricing rates may vary depending on a client’s ability to pay, so they’ll charge you based on what you can afford; if the rates from them are a little too high, try asking if sliding scale payments are allowed at the respective clinic. NeedyMeds is also a good website that keeps track of clinics that are either low-cost, sliding scale, or free.
- Have transportation limitations or a work schedule that makes it difficult to squeeze in appointments during the day? Try apps like BetterHelp or Talkspace that provide direct access to licensed therapists who can help through text, audio, and video chat.
- Databases like Psychology Today can assist in finding therapists and support groups in your area, while filters like language, gender, or type of therapy can make the search all the more successful. Just enter your zip code in the search bar and some options should pop up.
- Lastly, there’s also a free 24-hour mental health hotline that has 15 available languages managed by Integral Care. Just dial 512-472-HELP (4357). Use it whenever you need it.
Although finding a therapist may seem like a daunting process, ignoring your mental health is just as dangerous as ignoring your physical health. When Nalini reached eleventh grade, her anxiety had gotten so bad that she’d lost a significant amount of weight. Eventually, she decided to seek out her school’s counseling center. Over time, she realized that therapy wasn’t just helping her; it was helping her family as well. She recalls, “I had built up all this resentment towards everyone in my household for having to manage their emotional burdens on top of my own.” Therapy sessions taught her how to effectively communicate her feelings to those around her. As the old saying goes, you can only do good for others once you start doing good for yourself. Nalini emphasized, “By opening up to my brothers and parents, I was able to understand them better. I might’ve been fighting to make sense of the world around me––and it most definitely was hard––but so were they. And it was important that I recognize that.”