<<Prev Next>>

Walking towards hope

R Sriram Srinivas, who has multiple disabilities—mental retardation and spastic diplegia—takes a breather during his yoga session at home. P Settu, his yoga therapist, who has been teaching Sriram two years now, says that Sriram used to be inattentive and restless, but now follows instructions well and has mellowed down significantly.  



Images and text by Naveen P M

Walking towards hope (2/9)

M Vanitha, Sriram's teacher, helps Sriram wear his dance apparel before the start of the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' at Don Guanella Special School in Chennai. Due to Sriram's condition, simple tasks such as putting on clothes can become a chore and he often ends up needing some assistance. 


Walking towards hope (3/9)

Sriram rides his bicycle—fitted with a custom-made backrest—flanked by special education teacher, G V Arumugam. Arumugam has known Sriram for 15 years and was initially hired to teach him basic reading and writing skills. On Sriram's parents' request, he started to assist Sriram in walking and then taught him how to ride a bicycle so he could improve his muscle tone. 

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (4/9)

R Devi helps Sriram read a clock at Sai Sri Ram Training Centre. Sriram has difficulty reading and writing even basic words, and has a hard time grasping universal concepts such as time, date, and money. Devi is Sriram's favorite teacher. Sai Sri Ram Training Centre has eight students with special needs, two teachers, and a domestic help. The school functions from 10 am to 3 pm and keeps the students busy with a plethora of activities such as coloring, computer games, and yoga.


Walking towards hope (5/9)

M R Karthik, physical trainer, subjects Sriram to one of the many "balancing exercises" to improve his balance and correct his "scissor gait". Karthik has been training Sriram for the last two years. "In the beginning, Sriram could hardly stand for a minute on his own and displayed a lot of traits commonly seen in persons with Intellectual Disability (ID), such as lack of eye contact, droning, drooling...," says Karthik.

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (6/9)

Sriram and his classmates from Sai Sri Ram Training Centre perform to a medley of Bollywood songs at the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' held in Don Guanella Special School, Chennai. P Dharani Kumar, a professional choreographer, composed the dance moves for this performance. He visits the school every weekend to teach dance to these students. "Sriram usually has trouble recollecting and executing my dance moves but he stepped his game up through some spontaneous moves," he said. 

Read Sriram's story here

Walking towards hope (7/9)

Sriram is ecstatic after receiving a silver medal for the Standing Long Jump event. His driver, D Alvin (right), and Sriram's mother, R Vanitha, gather around to congratulate him, at the Special Olympics Sports Meet held on YMCA Grounds, Chennai. Sriram shares a special bond with Alvin and the two can often be seen engaging in healthy banter. 


Walking towards hope (8/9)

Sriram does a lap of backstroke at The League Club, Chennai. His parents introduced him to swimming at the age of seven after a doctor suggested hydropathy as treatment. Sriram has been training under U Sathish Kumar, swim coach for children with special needs, for one year now. Sriram won four gold medals in as many events at two swim meets for para-athletes held last year in Tamil Nadu.


Walking towards hope (9/9)

Dr J Paul Devasagayam, Area Director, Special Olympics Bharat, Tamil Nadu, reviews Sriram Srinivas's progress with his mother, R Vanitha, during one of their monthly meetings at his 100-square-foot office in Purasawalkam, Chennai.


Beyond Relocation: A challenge, an adventure and an opportunity to learn about myself - moving was all of these

When a person move to a new country, what are the challenges they face, and how does it impact their mental health?
Revathi Krishna

The world hasn’t been smaller than now. In a mere 36 hours, a person can get from one end of the world to the other. Migrants are ubiquitous – people migrate for education, work or pleasure. There are times, however, when migration is forced due to climate change, violence, fear of persecution etc and is usually fraught with complexities.  

In my early twenties, I moved to the United States of America for higher studies in clinical psychology. I was very excited and looked forward to this new adventure, though saying goodbye to family and friends wasn’t easy. It was my first trans-Atlantic journey which made it more special.  

Adventure or stress? 

For people who enjoy travelling, relocating to other countries can be an enjoyable endeavor. At the same time, coming from a culture where ‘settling [down]’ is a priority, some of us who moved every few years felt like we are floating around. Migrating often meant being uprooted from the familiar to acclimatizing ourselves to the new place and starting from scratch. While old learnings come handy, one might still experience culture shock. When I had moved to Australia after living in the US for over four years, I appreciated many of the similarities. Yet, it took me a while to adjust to simple things like the weather, their accent – the idioms, slang and phrases they use, and driving on the left side of the road again, just like India. This, when I’d trained myself to drive on the right side during my stay in the US. It was disorienting. 

But back to the story of my first move. After I landed in the United States of America, I people with different skin color and different clothes. Their accents were better in person, and somewhat different from the TV shows I had watched. I was fortunate enough to have someone pick me up and help me settle in. 

Settling down in a new country can take time. Apart from the culture, there are other practical stressors that come with it – finding a job, keeping it, renting a house or perhaps even owning one, learning to drive, health insurance, etc. Financial situations can be more stressful in a new country. I know of students who worked beyond the legal 20-hour work limit in the US because they had to save adequate to pay university fees and have a living. There are other stressors -- of measuring up to colleagues, getting promotions, buying that house in a similar neighborhood that your peers have bought in, having parents or family over to visit and all the other things one may need to portray for the ‘settled abroad’ image. 

In a new country, it is common to feel lonely and friendless. For the most part, these things are stark realities. It suddenly hits you that there is no one waiting for you back home, or that if you are sick, no one would know. There are cultural and language barriers that might be in the way of making friends easily. For a while, it may be the new independence that one savors after moving, but it can turn lonesome, with no friends or family to call for help. 

Vulnerability to mental illness 

Migrants can be susceptible to common mental disorders like depression and anxiety, due to lack of social support, social isolation, etc. (Kirmayer, et al., 2011). Women immigrants are two to three times more at risk for postpartum depression (Ahmad, et al., 2004) and in general more susceptible in developing mental health issues than the local population (Abebe, Lien & Hjelde, 2012). It is also not uncommon for migrants to feel pushed against the wall without support and thereby lead to suicidal ideation.  

But, all is not bleak. 'Healthy migrant effect' speaks about how some migrants were less susceptible to common illnesses compared to the settled population, due to the strong social support and family ties they had with their homes. A migrant's susceptibility to developing mental health issues can depend on a host of factors: social support, gender, socio-economic condition and life experiences before migration (e.g. exposure to trauma, etc.) Hence, as migrants, it is crucial to build a social support network as early as possible. It may be as simple as introducing yourself to people you meet that day, having a conversation with your co-commuters on trains or people who have assisted you at the checkout in a store. 

Asking for help 

As a migrant, if you take the first step and put yourself out there, slowly things will work themselves out. It is important to not be shy to ask for help – personal or professional. For example, all the grocery shopping help that some of my not-yet-friends gave me (years ago) not only got me through the two years living in a semi-rural part of the United States, but it also gave me friends for life. 
I learned that making friends and creating that social support is not all that hard, but does require work. If one is at a university, then, friends at the university – whether or not they are in your own cohort -- might be an easy place to start. Similarly, at workplace – find one or two people you can relate you at first and ask them if they’d like to grab a cup of coffee with you or maybe go out for lunch.  

Take part in sports either at the local community or at university. Now, it is also easier to find and make friends through online social groups that meet often. There are other avenues – meetup groups, facebook groups for own ethnicity or interests etc. There are also people who want to help and reach out to immigrants, including professional health practitioners.  

Being an immigrant can be a very pleasurable experience. I think it is worthwhile to try living in a different country than your own, as it can certainly teach us important life lessons as well as teach us a bit about ourselves! 
Revathi N Krishna is a clinical psychologist with over give years of experience and is currently a PhD student at Monash University Accident Research Center (MUARC), Monash University, Australia.

This story is from Beyond Relocation, a series on migration and how it impacts our emotional and mental health. Read more here:
1. We need to acknowledge the emotional impact of migration: Dr Sabina Rao
2.Organizations must help employees transition: Maullika Sharma

Ahmad, F., Shik, A., Vanza, R., et al. (2004). Popular health promotion strategies among Chinese and East Indian immigrant women. Women Health, 40, 21–40 

Kirmayer, L. J., Narasiah, L., Munoz, M., et al. (2011). Common mental health problems in immigrants and refugees: general approach in primary care.  Canadian Medical Association Journal, 183(12), E959-E967. doi:10.1503/cmaj.090292. 

Sandhu, S., Bjerre, N. V., Dauvrin, M., Dias, S., Gaddini, A., Greacen, T.,…Priebe, S. (2013). Experiences with treating immigrants: a qualitative study in mental health services across 16 European countries. Social Psychiatry Psychaitr Epidemiology, 48, 105-116.  



Also Read