Swaran Dhawan

Daily Point of Light # 5447 Apr 1, 2015
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One in four people will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime. There is a great need for counseling services for those suffering from mental illness, especially those living far from their home country. Swaran Dhawan immigrated to The United States in the 1960s from the northern mountains of India and she empathizes with those seeking to make this country their new home.
 
While living in the United States, Dhawan worked as a therapist and went on to become a director of social work in a psychiatric hospital. In the late 1990s, Dhawan was gearing up for retirement when she and a fellow social worker began to address the arrival of South Indians immigrating to the Baltimore, MD, area. The two social workers were united by their passion to assuage cultural and generational gaps that are often linked to mental illness. Dhawan helped form Counselors Helping (South) Asians/Indians, Inc. (CHAI) to help bridge these gaps.
 
“It’s promoting mental health across generations. We take calls and connect people to the right resource treatment. We are reaching out to places of faith, arts, music and providing the assistance they need,” Dhawan explains.
 
CHAI takes a holistic approach to addressing the specific needs of the South Asian populations. By providing proactive, culturally competent information and referrals on mental health and wellness, CHAI is providing a valuable service for the South Asian community.
 
“Most of my professional life has been in the mental health field or with women, so this was very fitting for me to give back to this community,” Dhawan says. “It was also very worthwhile to see young people taking interest in this field.”
 
Beyond increasing access to mental health services for the South Asian population, CHAI is actively working to end the stigma surrounding mental health. They have crafted a pledge that urges people to “be part of the solution and not the problem” and to show compassion.
 
“The stigma is the biggest challenge; the secrets and the shame. We are encouraging people to keep the dialogue open,” Dhawan explains.
 
CHAI has trained more than 1,500 professionals and community members in cultural competency around mental health.  Committed volunteers, like Dhawan, work tirelessly to ensure people are given the necessary resources to help manage their mental illness. They provide vast informational literature on mental health, locate providers with South Asian language and culture knowledge and provide workshops to increase cultural proficiency.
 
Everyday CHAI is making strides towards securing a welcoming environment for South Asians to address their mental health. “You know, it’s like a cherry tree. You plant a cherry tree, and you don’t see the cherries tomorrow,” Dhawan explains.
 
If you know someone like Swaran Dhawan affecting change in their communities nominate them today for The Daily Point of Light Award. 

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