“Dr. Patel? Oh, I know one that’s a cardiologist. Is he your dad?”
The simple answer is “No.” The longer answer includes my scream of frustration. I want to tell them: “All Patel’s aren’t related. Not all Patel’s are doctors.” But me, yes I am.
Of all the fields that I could have picked, I chose psychiatry. Why? Well let me explain. It was easy for any patient to see my name and think Cardiology, or even Internal Medicine or Nephrology: fields that are as science as medicine gets. We look for the Indian physician that our grandparents can go to for their medical needs because they speak the language, but when do we stop and look for that one Gujarati psychiatrist that Ba/Dada can go to? This cultural gap is what inspired me to choose a different field of medicine.
To speak more about myself, I am currently a PGY-3 psychiatry resident in West Texas. In the two years that I have been in training, I found that any level of my native language that I knew had substantially decreased. Although my intentions were to treat the South Asian community, those were the patients that had a hard time coming to see a psychiatrist in the first place. I never even needed to use my Gujarati.
It took some time to really sit down and realize it, but just as Indians aren’t immune from any medical conditions, we aren’t immune from the psychiatric conditions either. We just have a much harder time of getting the courage to see the professional.
Mental illness is a stigma in the nation as a whole, but it is so easy to overlook a specialty that no one in the family will talk about. As South Asians who want to make a difference in the community with regards to mental health, there is a need for psychiatrists that speak Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, and more. So many of the south Asian languages are overlooked because we overlook mental health. In Gujarati, the only term I can think of for psychiatric illnesses is “pagal,” meaning “crazy.” Language itself can be a powerful tool for how we begin to shape mental illness and treatment within the community. Therefore, we need to soften the blow to seeking mental health treatment and reduce the stigma. Reducing this stigma can be achieved not only by getting more of the community actively seeking out a psychiatrist or psychologist, but also working on becoming and valuing those individuals that our community can seek out.
It doesn’t matter to me that I’m not Dr. Patel, the Cardiologist. I’m Dr. Patel, the Psychiatrist. In either of those scenarios, we’re serving the community in the way that we are trained and in the way our patients need.