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Saaya Unveiled: Milwaukee author offers insight into the mental health issues of the South Asian diaspora

The month of May is both “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month” and “National Mental Health Awareness Month.” In recognition of the many layers and complexities that show up in the South Asian experience, I’m reviewing the work of author, Mrinal Gokhale in her first published book, Saaya Unveiled: South Asian Mental Health Spotlighted.

As a clinician myself, I am always in search for great resources that could help inform the many diverse mental health treatment modalities, planning, and goals for my clients. Gokhale, in her book, intimately explored the lives of 11 South Asians with upbringings connected to the Indian and Pakistani experience of growing up in America, Canada, and Europe.

She identified two audiences that she hopes this book will resonate with; South Asians in general and non-South Asians within the medical and mental health fields. While she accomplished that with flying colors, what really stuck out was how much this book should resonate with all of us as it spoke to the pervasiveness of mental health needs in our society in general.

From cover to finish, the book captured my attention. It provided familiar insight into my own upbringing as a first-generation South Asian male from India growing up in Southeast-Wisconsin. As I read the testimonies of others that shared my experiences, the way in which I was conditioned to understand my role in this society were normalized.

I reflected on times in my life where forks in the road either made me a better or worse person. Admittedly, this book was very challenging to read because it was so intimate to my own life experience but written from multiple perspectives of region, religion, language, and culture. I found myself reading a passage in the book and processing at the same time.

While some authors, who write on mental health can be very academic and dry, Gokhale is not one of them. She has mastered the art of bringing the wisdom of the well to the living water, meaning that she makes sense of the lives of 11 South Asian individuals navigating the culture of the West from a genuine mental health lens that speaks of love, loss, trauma, identity, family and personal hopes and expectations. True to the title of the book, Saaya Unveiled, Saaya meaning shadow, Gokhale channels Jungian psychology of doing the deep shadow work of uncovering the sides of our personalities that we have hidden.

While no group is a monolith, there are some patterns that are socialized into the South Asian experience in the West and Gokhale does a phenomenal job of bringing much of this to light and exposing the shadow self of Asian identity while being careful to not paint with a broad stroke brush. She does this not by pathologizing nor offering judgment but rather by offering understanding and care. Gokhale reinforces that there are generational stigmas around mental health that the younger South Asian community in the West struggles with. She normalizes the feelings of frustrations navigating stereotypes such as the “model minority” or “submissive conformity” of Asians.

Gokhale both supports the close-knit family and community bonds while also providing insight into the many ways that these could be barriers to accessing mental health care. She reveals how unreasonable academic and family expectations can lead to anxiety and depressive disorders. Gokhale delineates between healthy coping and toxic coping strategies and relationships that we engage in while setting forth an understanding of the role that trauma has and continues to play in life.

This book reminded me of the work that we need to do as a society to understand that we all have a role in the healing of one another. Within that role, we will need to meet people where they are and what lens they view the world from. One of the most important factors of achieving success with clients is having a therapeutic alliance, which is defined as a “cooperative working relationship between client and therapist which brings together the bonds, goals, and tasks.”

Without a therapeutic alliance, client progress is nearly impossible. Saaya Unveiled is not simply about 11 individuals and their roads to finding themselves but it is an access key for mental health professionals to unlock their South Asian clients and help them navigate a way forward.

I will be referring to this book often as a clinician and rereading it myself. Saaya Unveiled offers a unique journey into the lives of other South Asians living in Western society. However, what I found to be most important was how this book provided introspective personal insight and permission for South Asians living in Western societies to explore our own journey into the self. I highly recommend Saaya Unveiled.

Thank you Mrinal Gokhale.

About The Author

Pardeep Kaleka

Pardeep Kaleka is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, published author of The Gifts of Our Wounds, award-winning columnist with Milwaukee Independent, and a clinician specializing in utilizing a trauma-informed approach to treat survivors and perpetrators of assault, abuse, and acts of violence.