Amira Sidhu was just 10 years old when she first began to experience suicidal thoughts, loneliness, and anxiety.
South Asian community and mental-health taboo
The uncertainty of growing up and trying to find her place in the world and understanding who she was, combined with multiple losses and personal challenges she experienced in her family, all within the span of a short period of time, left her feeling terrified and alone. But, in her words, the ‘why’ of it all doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that these scary and newly emerging feelings left her isolated and alienated from everyone around her. Mental health was, and in some ways still is, a taboo topic of conversation in the South-Asian community that Amira’s family belong to.
“I remember finding this book in the school library when I was in Grade 5, and it was about a girl who was struggling with thoughts of suicide and trying to commit it. Something like that. And I just remember being really drawn to the book and I was so scared because I didn’t understand why,” shares Amira. “I was scared of my own mind, and I think I stigmatized my own self for a very long time, as if I was a problem that needed to go away or be fixed.”
Feelings finally validated
Amira’s journey to healing herself began when her Grade 6 teacher suggested that she see a school counsellor. Up until that point Amira had not even heard the words ‘mental health’. It was a revelation to finally hear that her feelings were valid and real, and that she wasn’t going ‘out of her mind.’
“In my culture, emotions and mental health are just not talked about. I remember being told that I had no reason to feel depressed because I was so privileged and had it better than so many people,” she reflects. “I think I felt guilty and hated myself for a long time just for feeling low. I fought against myself and buried everything I felt because what right did I have to feel sad when others have it way worse?”
Not knowing where or who to turn to for help or even just an empathetic listening ear, Amira remembers aching for connection and wanting to feel less alone even for a moment.
“There was no safe place for youth when I was growing up. A place where young people could connect with each other and feel like their voice mattered. That they deserve to be here, be heard and not feel like a burden or a problem for expressing their sadness and pain,” says Amira. “I think Foundry really is the manifestation of every young person’s secret prayer, to have some place where they are celebrated exactly as they are.”
After Amira came across Foundry, she found more than just a safe, inclusive community where she belongs and is celebrated. Foundry began in St. Paul’s Hospital in 2015 and has grown into a network of care for young people across the province.
With the support of Foundry, she also rediscovered her own capacity for resilience and learnt that her voice matters. Most importantly, she says, she realized just how endlessly deserving her inner child is, of kindness, and compassion.
She says Foundry is changing the conversations around mental health, not just among young people but in communities across British Columbia.
‘We have come far as a society, but I feel like there is still stigma around mental health because it’s invisible compared to a physical injury. If you had a broken bone, no one would tell you to just get over it or try to keep walking anyway,” Amira says.
Providing help before the crisis
What makes Foundry stand out is its commitment to supporting young people from the moment that they need support and not waiting till youth are at a crisis point.
“I feel like you can only see a psychiatrist or counsellor if you’re already at a breaking point, and even then, there’s a long wait list and it can be so expensive,” says Amira. “Young people who are already in crisis are not going to wait that long and so they give up. Foundry is saving lives because young people can get the help they need, free of cost, without having to wait. There are no barriers!”
Foundry helps all cultures
Amira highlights that what she loves about Foundry the most is just how diverse and inclusive it is. According to her, different cultures struggle with mental health in unique, culturally influenced ways and Foundry understands that there are no one-size fits all approaches for young people.
To learn more about how you can support Foundry or access its services,
please visit www.foundrybc.ca.
To read Foundry’s 2022-2023 Impact Report, click here.
Read the original version of this story from Foundry here.