Ritu Jha –
Whether considering gun violence or a rise in hate-crimes, it’s the roots that matter, said R K Janmeja (Meji) Singh, the retiring founding president of The Hume Center who is also a clinical psychologist.
Singh was speaking at the center’s 25 anniversary held earlier this month in San Ramon, California.
The Hume Center, founded in 1993 as an outpatient program for undeserved populations in Central Contra Costa County in California, aimed to reverse the rates of mental health disorders in society that has says risen sharply in the last decade.
The Hume Center also has training programs, through innovative partnerships works with high-level social entrepreneurs, government agencies, school districts and community organizations.
Singh, clad in white, signed his book “Changing the Course of Destruction” when he said that President’s Trump’s political rhetoric did not play a role in it, and that the system has been problematic for 400 years.
“We have to understand the process the history and context and change the roots. We should not keep fertilize the leaves; fertilize the root and change them,” he said.
Singh addressed the recent spate of school shootings.
“It’s impossible to stop, it is going to happen, and Trump has brought to the surface what was always there,” he said.
Hume employees say suicide rates have been rising, especially among teens, to become the third leading cause of death overall. But they said not treating mentally ill people also leads to acts of violence.
According to Singh, who has worked with the mentally ill and criminals, said, “We sit with them and try to heal their wounds. Nobody listens to these people… These people are victims, not criminals. … These are people who are really hurt by civilization.”
Priya Aslam, a program manager for the South Asian community at the Hume Center told indica the organization offered free services and that clients come in for rehabilitation, whether they are stressed mothers, people dealing with domestic problems, or even those on H-1B visas worried about having to precipitously leave the country.
“There is a lot of stress and depression in the community,” Aslam said, pointing to the administration’s focus on visa issues in the past couple of years.
The center got a grant from Alameda County eight years ago to provide services in different languages to the South Asian community. As a result, the staff speak Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Nepalese and other languages.
“Eight years ago we served 61 people and in 2017 about 1498 people and this year we have more,” Aslam said, referring to the number of South Asians who came for help at the center.
They use their first grant to create awareness about the program, the staff visit schools, places of worship and community centers and encourage people to visit the clinic.
“But it was not easy, because people have an idea that mental health means ‘I am crazy.’ We have to explain to them that mental health does not mean something is wrong with you,” Aslam said. “It’s something like you go to the doctor for blood pressure and it’s confidential and everything is private.”
She said the group has a deal with the Fremont Unified Schools (Alameda county) to work with high school students who endure a lot of stress, bullying at school and other forms of trauma.
Dr Samantha Parker, a psychologist, who did a year’s internship at the Hume Center in 2010 and did more work there later, told indica she sees more people being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bi-polar and other disorders. She put it down to the swiftness of change in modern society and lack of strong family connections, resulting in a lot of stress.
“I think everyone has an issue, whether they admit or not,” Parker said. “Some have more serious issues and need to talk to someone about it.” she said, adding that people had to be taught to take advantage of the many amenities now available, and to stay connected with family.
Naren Bakshi, a serial entrepreneur, mentor and Chairman Emeritus of the Hume Center, announced that collaboration and partnering with the center would be his next focus at the India Community Center Wellness conference, “Mind Matters: How Emotional Health Impacts Your Total Health” to be held next year on 24th February.
During his speech he said he got the center a $250,000 donation in 1997 after convincing his partner that it mattered.
“I had issue in my own family,” Bakshi said, describing how his own brother, a doctor in India, was unwilling to accept that his son had a problem.
“There is too much stigma still there,” he said.
Talking about the future plans for the center, Bakshi said the plan was to get help from the TiE entrepreneurship group, [started by the Indian-American engineers in the Silicon Valley], and rely on the many innovations happening in health and through technology.