McMaster nurses are leading the way to better mental health
May 18, 2021
By Guylaine Spencer
Above: Jasmeet Chagger and Maneet Chahal; photo taken pre-pandemic
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN: HAMILTON SPECTATOR
The McMaster School of Nursing has a proud 75-year history of helping to prepare leaders in nursing. Maneet Chahal and Jasmeet Chagger are two recent examples of that tradition.
The two close friends founded SOCH Mental Health, a non-profit community program designed to help build mental health, in April 2015.
SOCH is a word in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi (three South Asian languages) which means “to think” or “a thought”. Maneet and Jasmeet believe that in order to target mental health stigma within the South Asian community, they need to change their community’s “SOCH” about it, so they began offering workshops about mental health.
What started as a part-time endeavor has turned into a full-time occupation recently for both of them. “Last year, we got really busy with SOCH. Because we were getting so many inquiries, Maneet left her job in July to work for SOCH full time. Then I transitioned full time this year after finishing my thesis at McMaster,” says Jasmeet.
SOCH received their first grant in December 2020 from Canadian Red Cross. The $98,000 grant came from an emergency fund supporting communities during COVID. It has allowed them to re-organize and expand their offerings to the community.
“Currently we have 35 volunteers,” Jasmeet says. “Since last year we were able to organize them in mental health streams for various groups: South Asian women, South Asian men, addictions support, queer and trans mental health, people with addictions, seniors, perinatal, child and youth, women 45 and older. And we have a poetry club! It’s like an open mike except we do it virtually. Our volunteers have either a clinical background or lived experience with mental health issues.”
SOCH usually offers their programming in the form of in-person workshops. Since the pandemic began, they have moved to an online format. (They will resume in-person when it’s safe to do so.) Some recent topics have included coping with COVID-19, navigating pregnancy and postpartum life in the midst of COVID-19, and interactive book reading and mindfulness for children and their caregivers. These workshops are hosted by the founders, volunteers or guest speakers.
“Going virtual has been beneficial. It has really opened SOCH up to a global audience. Anyone can sign in from anywhere in the world,” says Jasmeet. Privacy is maintained because it is not necessary to turn on camera.
The team has also co-produced a series of short films with project director and scriptwriter Anuradha Grover-Tejpal. The “Pardesi Project” deals with mental health using the art of storytelling. “Sheridan College approached us because students were experiencing serious mental health problems like depression, anxiety, exploitation, suicide. We made 10 short films, 5 in English and 5 in Punjabi. The purpose is two-fold. First, we were focusing on international students, introducing them to the topic of mental health, taking away the stigma, and showing them where they can get support. And second, we were speaking to the larger community, who are housing international students. They need to be aware of what’s going on with international students. We want to dismantle stereotypes and help people understand the challenges these students are facing,” says Jasmeet. They are all available online for free on the SOCH website. Although they’re aimed at international students, these films are relevant to anyone.
SOCH also hosts their own TV show called Apni SOCH on the Sikh Channel which deals with the same topic. And to extend their reach, they post mental health tips and inspirational messages on their social media accounts (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter).
You can learn more about SOCH and access their resources at sochmentalhealth.com.