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Meet the Winners of the First SEWA Student Art Competition

We recently had our first Mental Health Student Art Competition. This was an opportunity for students in our community to showcase their talent while spreading mental health awareness.

You may remember that we announced the winners back in September. However, it was important to meet with not only the winners, but their parents as well. A main goal of the art competition was to facilitate conversation around mental health.

It was for this reason that we had a Zoom call with the winners and their families, some of whom are here in the US, and others in India. Each artist took some time to talk about their art and inspiration. Their parents then shared their thoughts on the subject of the competition: Mental Health.

Without further ado, let’s get to know our talented artists and their families, who have helped us break the silence around mental health.

First Place: Meghana Chimata

For Meghana, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, art has always been a break from stress. Art is a healing practice for many. In our discussion, Meghana said that it made her happy to be able to present mental health as a concept. She was excited to be part of an open discussion, as mental health is generally not talked about in the South Asian community.

Meghana’s mother joined by thanking Sewa for creating this discussion space. She agreed with Meghana that mental health conversations are sorely lacking in the community, and was happy with Sewa for recognizing the need and addressing it.

Second Place: Sanhita Sengupta

Sanhita, a Statistics PhD student at the University of Minnesota, wrote a poem that speaks to feelings of isolation when struggling with mental health. It ends on a happy note, “You are not alone/You don’t have to struggle in silence/Reach out and take care!”

Sanhita’s mother, Nandini, connected from Kolkata, India. She was proud of her daughter for taking part in this competition and larger discussion. According to her, not only must mental health must be destigmatized, but members of the older generation must take part in the discussion. A lot of young people are open with each other about their mental health. But many still have older family members who don’t see the importance.

Third Place: Rishabh Yata

Rishabh Yata is an IT graduate student at Minnesota State University. He expressed how one feels caged by systems and traditions, represented by the cages in the drawing.

The puzzles, he said, represent puzzles in life that people face in regards to mental health. Mental health can be a puzzle because we don’t know who to talk to. The reality for many in our community — younger or older — is that seeing therapists is a big deal. Hiding that from family for fear of judgement is one of the puzzle pieces one must find a fit for.

Honorable Mention: Jannis Benjamin

Jannis Benjamin is an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Minnesota. Jannis loves to experiment with different artistic mediums, and did this painting in nail paint. It’s important to express emotion in whatever way suits you. For Jannis, that means art and especially dancing. For others, maybe it’s a different hobby. But she stressed the importance of finding ways to emotionally express yourself.

Her father was with us as well. He agreed with Jannis that mental health is indeed important and should be treated as such. He also asked some very important questions: How do we talk about mental health? What can parents do?

It’s incredibly encouraging to hear questions like that. We’re still on the first step, which is simply learning to talk about mental health. Asking questions like these shows a willingness to learn and openness to change. That’s exactly what we need.

So, What Needs to Happen?

Destigmatizing mental health is the goal. We envision a world where members of our South Asian community can have open and honest conversations about their mental health without fear. There’s still quite a bit of distance to be covered. But conversations like the one we had with these student artists and their families are exactly what it takes to effect change.

This conversation was also important because it was intergenerational. The young generations across the world, not just in South Asia, are largely open with each other about mental health. But the reality is that many teens and young adults face judgement from older relatives.

It’s vital to make these conversations intergenerational for several reasons. Young and older people alike need to know they will have support from family and that they won’t be shamed. When generations work together destigmatize mental health, the entire community will be elevated. We can’t truly succeed unless we do it together. After all, mental illness does not discriminate.

Sewa is dedicated to improving wellbeing and family wellness, mental and physical. Mental health shouldn’t be taboo. Recognizing the need and asking for help are signs of strength, not weakness. We want to thank our artists and their families for having the courage to be open with each other. It’s not easy to let others in, but it’s the vital first step to ending the stigma once and for all.

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