Cutting Chai with Jagesh Panchal

Lakshmi Ganapathy sits down with the founder of Shakti Mental Health, who works to challenge stigma and improve mental well-being in the South Asian community.

Reading Time: 3 minutes


JAGESH PANCHAL is a Melbourne-based mental well-being advocate and youth worker. He is the founder of ‘Shakti Mental Health’, a platform destigmatising and facilitating discussions around mental health in the South Asian community.

You’ve been a mental health advocate since 2018. What’s a belief around mental well-being that’s been challenged for you on this journey?

Jagesh Panchal: Finding a therapist or a mental health professional to really speak and sit down with. When I first started therapy, it was through an Employee Assistance Program which was a very challenging experience. I felt like the first therapist I had didn’t really understand a lot [about my background], but when I did see someone of South Asian background, a lot of those challenges were overcome. Just knowing your therapist has some context on what you’ve been going through and you don’t have to re-explain or start from scratch in a way is more comforting.

A lot of your work has involved holding space for South Asian men to have conversations. How can we help facilitate conversations around mental health literacy in our community?

Jagesh Panchal: What we’ve found, especially with South Asian men, is that you need a bit of a catalyst or activity for certain communities to come together [and speak]. Maybe that’s having those discussions over food or chai or you’re cooking something together and having those chats…just different creative ways that get people together, in a way [that isn’t] just sitting down and having a chat. It’s hard for not only South Asian communities, but everyone to have those discussions with people you might not necessarily know, so when you’re in a group setting, you really need something that makes you feel comfortable together. 

The holiday season means we’ll spend lots of time with our families, which can be lovely but difficult. How do we take care of our mental health amidst family expectations?

Jagesh Panchal: I think it’s important to set boundaries with family, so maybe before your [extended] family members come over, telling your immediate family, ‘Hey, so and so [relative] hasn’t been the best to me’ and outlining the reasons why [you may not want to talk to them], and letting them know you might need some time outside of the house or by yourself before you rejoin. 

[Some] comments can be hurtful, and not a lot of family [members] know that, so it’s on us to say why. It’s important your family back you up with that; so, if there’s an uncle or aunty or another family member who’s making those comments, your parents or family need to also have that conversation with that family member. Those might be uncomfortable [things to do], but in the long term, it means your family can have a more comfortable holiday period. 

What’s something that you’re currently listening to/reading/playing/watching?

Jagesh Panchal: I’m reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I started a couple of months ago and am slowly getting through; it’s about this utopian world [with AI], and it’s really good! 

What’s a word that you like in a South Asian language, and what does it mean?

Jagesh Panchal: Ruhaniya, which means soulful or spiritual in Urdu. I’ve been looking at lots of Instagram pages with cool words, and that’s one I’ve really liked over the past few months. 

And finally: Soan Papdi or Papdi Chat?

Jagesh Panchal: Papdi Chaat. I had it again over Diwali, I hadn’t had it for a while before that! Soan Papdi is okay, but Papdi Chaat is like taking it to the next level.

READ ALSO: Cutting Chai with Meghna

Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy is an emerging journalist and theatre-maker based in Melbourne.

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