Local Radio Station Works to Break Mental Health Stigmas in South Asian Community

Host Ayesha Shafi hosts a monthly mental health segment to spark conversation about issues that often go unchecked.

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On Thursday, family and friends laid six loved ones to rest in Allen.

The Towhid family was found in their home Monday morning after police say two brothers made a pact to kill their family before taking their own lives. Authorities said the brothers had been battling depression.

It's a story that has deeply shaken the South Asian community in North Texas and sparked a conversation about mental health.

“It's heartbreaking,” said Ayesha Shafi, host and CEO of Irving-based Radio Azad. “And the first thought that came to my mind was here we go again – because we've had a rash of suicides happening in our community, especially among boys in our community across the nation."

Shafi helps run the radio station with founder, Azad Khan. Monthly, she hosts a mental health segment for the station, which airs on 104.9 FM HD3 and online.

The first Monday of every month, she brings on clinical psychologists and psychiatrists for in-depth discussions about depression, anxiety, signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, and how people can find help. She even takes live callers to allow for healing conversations about their struggles.

Radio Azad Facebook
Radio Azad also streams some of the monthly mental health conversations on their Facebook page.

"These kinds of issues are just swept under the rug. There's still a lot of stigma associated with mental health. So when people are going through things like depression or anxiety, or just the ability to not be able to cope with daily things, there's no outlet for them to talk about it," Shafi said. It’s just a pressure to perform to meet these expectations and unfortunately, just like the Asian American community, a lot of communities suffer with this. There’s also a lot of loneliness isolation due to the pandemic.”

A 2019 report by the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health says that South Asian immigrants experience high rates of mental health disorders, which often times go unaddressed.

According to the the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, South Asian Americans have the lowest rate of utilization of mental health services.

Shafi said the recent deaths in Allen have prompted her and many others to sound the alarm for mental health issues with her community that often go unchecked.

Through her segments, Shafi said she has learned how important it is for parents and community members to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression, talk to their kids or loved ones about it, and not be afraid to get help.

“If you have an ache or sprain, you immediately go to the doctor to get help. But mental health is something that is still not acceptable to be talked about. So kids who are suffering through these issues don’t talk to their parents, they don’t talk to anybody. Maybe they talk to a friend. But most importantly they don’t know how to verbalize it. They just have these feelings and don’t exactly know how to communicate them," Shafi said.

Shafi said Radio Azad is trying to break the stigmas associated with mental health by providing a platform in North Texas for communities to discuss these kinds of issues.

“We’ve provided a platform for people to discuss these kinds of issues. Our tagline is ‘Where your voice matters.’ And we find that there is just no place to openly discuss these issues,” she said.

Radio Azad
Radio Azad, founded by Azad Khan (right) and Ayesha Shafi (left), helps to bring news, information and resources to South Asian communities in North Texas. Programming is broadcast in eight languages.

Radio Azad has programming in eight languages and a slew of resources on their Facebook, Twitter and Youtube pages.

If you need help, the South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network is a nonprofit that addresses the mental health needs of the South Asian community in the U.S. Click here to find information and resources online.

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