Rabiah Dhaliwal On the Importance of Culturally Sensitive Therapy

PHOTOGRAPH BY JASMINE SEM-DUONG. Design by Danielle Campbell.

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While sheltering at his home in Surrey, British Columbia during the coronavirus crackdown, Rabiah Dhaliwal overpowered the winged liner. “I became an eyeliner god,” laughs the 21-year-old.

Drawing the perfect cat’s eye movie is the latest addition to Dhaliwal’s personal care menu, a range of must-have activities put in place to enhance his well-being. “Even if I just go downstairs to prepare some food, then I go to study, [makeup] can feel empowering, ”says Dhaliwal, who is currently studying science at the University of British Columbia and is aiming for medical school. And as someone who has struggled with their mental health for several years, self-care has become crucial, particularly during a troubling pandemic.

Other restorative ingredients in her wellness recipe include quick start items – like just getting out of bed and establishing a daily routine, journaling, and creative drawing – to important tasks like therapy. “Sometimes I have to go [to therapy] more, sometimes I need to go less… It just depends on what I’m going through at the moment, and that’s totally normal.

As for her trusty liquid eyeliner, interestingly, it was part of a bag of loot she received at the Canadian edition of the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth gala before it closed in March – with an award. of $ 10,000. Each year, the beauty giant seeks out Canadian women who are demonstrating advocacy and change within their communities, and Dhaliwal, along with nine other women, received a charitable grant.

Dhaliwal was recognized for her work as the volunteer vice president of the One Blood for Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase the ethnic diversity of the National Stem Cell Registry so that patients who require transplants of stem cells are more likely to find a successful donor. “You are more likely to find a match within your own ethnic community. For many racialized communities in Canada, the number of donors is lower, ”says Dhaliwal, who started with the organization when she was in grade 12. It was extremely meaningful work for her because in the same year her beloved grandfather was diagnosed with cancer and required numerous blood transfusions.

During the gala, Dhaliwal was also celebrated for becoming a committed advocate for mental health after experiencing personal agony.

Rabiah Dhaliwal at the 2020 Women of Worth Gala. Photograph courtesy of L’Oréal Paris Canada.

In 11th grade, Dhaliwal struggled deeply with his mental health, and his deteriorating mental state led to a suicide attempt which left Dhaliwal in a coma and recovered in a teenage psychiatric ward. “I felt suicidal because I didn’t have healthy coping strategies. The time in the hospital and the counseling and therapy sessions have really helped me equip myself with these tools, ”she says, acknowledging that her mental health is an ongoing road to healing. “A great personal goal is to get to a point where I’m confident enough to say that I’ve been able to move beyond what I’ve been through. One thing that has helped enormously: not to dwell on your health problems and, on the contrary, to talk and share your story.

The L’Oréal Paris grant inspired Dhaliwal to invest this money in creating his own mental health organization, a passionate project that has tormented him for some time. “Winning was the affirmation that I needed my mental health story to be heard and my work recognized. After that, I gathered the courage to start, ”she says.

Called the Voices for Hope Foundation, the organization, which is in its planning phase, aims to dispel misconceptions about mental health and illness and shed light on these “invisible” health issues. “We do this by leading workshops and educational campaigns, writing think tanks on social justice, and working on policy and advocacy,” says Dhaliwal.

And at the heart of the organization it is building is a platform to amplify the voices of BIPOC. “We want to give [people of colour] a safe space to share their experiences and equip them with tools for healthy healing, ”she says. This is especially important because culturally sensitive representation and resources really matter in the mental health space, which Dhaliwal wishes to see when she is struggling with thoughts of suicide.

“I have often felt a lack of validation and visibility due to the lack of culturally informed therapy as well as the lack of mental health professionals at BIPOC. I also remember being 16 and being admitted to the adolescent psychiatric ward where I was the only dark-haired person there and one of the few BIPOC patients in general. This led to a feeling of isolation and cultural disconnection, ”explains Dhaliwal. “When I was talking to a therapist, I often found myself devoting more emotional work to trying to explain the complex dynamics of my culture in relation to my mental health issues, and often I didn’t find their advice applicable. I find it hard to believe in simple tips like “communicate with your parents”. “

As the daughter of the second generation of hard-working Punjabi-Sikh immigrants who escaped religious genocide in India, Dhaliwal grew up in a culture with a survival mentality of ‘keeping your head down and overcoming your problems’ , she shares. Opening up to his family about his poor emotional health was just not an option. “There is a Punjabi word called ‘izzat‘, which means honor. Remaining silent is considered honorable because of the survival mentality that has manifested itself in our community. Talking about your problems is about having fun. “

It’s complex stigmas like these that make Dhaliwal speak out today, especially so that racialized young women like her “can see that there is someone like them who has been through this and came out the other side stronger.

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