Racing Ahead: Sikh Scottish mental health support

Sikh Sanjog has been delivering health/lifestyle and social projects for over 30 years, gaining immense experience in reaching the lonely, isolated and ‘hard to reach’. Founder/director Trishna Singh shares details of their mental health provision which the Sikh community can celebrate

Sikh Women Speak, an event by SIkh Sanjog – Photo: Sikh Women Speak: The Report (2021)

By Trishna Singh | Britain |

Sikh Sanjog is the only Sikh family support charity in Edinburgh, where we recognise and respond to the inequalities within mainstream services.

We have been delivering health/lifestyle and social projects for over 30 years, gaining immense experience in reaching the lonely, isolated and ‘hard to reach’, acknowledging that personal situations can lead to poor mental wellbeing, manifesting in a range of ways and severity. We share this experience and work in collaboration with others with similar goals. We have supported Sikh women and addressed caste discrimination in this small community.

How do you support mental health?

Mental health carries ‘stigma’ within all groups but create additional barriers for minority ethnic groups. Through an intersectional approach we offer a holistic service and culturally sensitive service that women from all ethnic groups can access without having to ‘explain’ about the internal barriers they face on top of the external issues. Our staff are from within the community and have ‘lived experience’ therefore can relate to the issues and are able to respond to the needs of the women accordingly. Our report, Sikh Women Speak in 2021 identified that not all Sikh women want a Sikh therapist, and a range of provision should be offered to meet these heterogenous needs.

What support do you provide to those impacted by Gender Based Violence?

Gender based violence within the Sikh community is a ‘hidden issue’ which is not spoken about openly. Our referrals for counselling are largely informed by survivors of violence, where in many instances the women are unable to leave their partners, as they are economically disengaged, and the ‘stigma’ attached to walking out of a marriage. Support to these vulnerable women is provided through an intersectional lens by the staff. Our services are provided free of charge and are accessed by Sikh and other minority ethnic women that do not have financial means to access support. Our clients are referred through our outreach services, which provides financial wellbeing support to the most economically and socially vulnerable members. 

How have you addressed psychological well-being?

Sikh Sanjog produced a policy briefing on mental well-being and empowerment, outlining social isolation and lack of support networks as key factors that limit our users’ ability to take action to manage their wellbeing. This study, undertaken by a master’s Student from Edinburgh University over six months in 2017, highlighted that depression followed by anxiety were the most common reported mental health issues. Participants identified the lack of culturally appropriate single sex activities (women only). A general lack of awareness, understanding about mental health issues particularly, which means people struggle to identify what they need help with or don’t realise there is support available. Some groups speak languages that are left out of translated materials, e.g. the Nepalese community, the Sikh community. Through our programme we can increase understanding of mental health within our user group and introduce methods of maintaining wellbeing through a range of activities.

We have worked in partnership with many mainstreams and third sector services providing counselling for Ethnic minorities. We referred women onto these services but there was always a lack of understanding from counsellors on how to deal with deep seated cultural nuances that caused so much stress and trauma to women from the Sikh Community. We understand also that the women themselves at times did not understand the concept of ‘counselling’. Even although they may have been born and raised in the UK with no language barriers i.e. English being their first language.

What in-house services have you developed?

We have over the years realised the need for an in-house counsellor — whether she be Asian or White/Scottish/English — who really understood the culture the nuances the extended family issues and how the external community could affect an individual’s whole life. Alongside this we know that alternative therapies i.e. cranial therapy was more acceptable and understood by the client themselves it was not about talking through your problems and then closing the session until next time. Over the years we have realised that having an in-house service was what was required.

What therapeutic approaches have worked with your client group?

Pranic Therapy is a non-touch complementary therapy used to accelerate the body’s natural ability to heal. It can be used as a preventative or restorative treatment for physical and psychological conditions, including stress, anxiety, trauma, insomnia and much more. It is becoming widely recognised by the medical community and is currently the subject of clinical trials at King’s College Hospital, London. Pranic Therapy is highly effective at removing the effects of trauma, stress and other negative emotions from the body, without requiring the patient to talk about or re-live the traumatic events they have experienced. After a series of treatments patients report not only physical improvements but also greater mental clarity and a more positive outlook on life

Based on the complex, intersectional needs of Sikh women pranic healing therapy is provided to women experiencing gender-based violence or women that are dealing with traumatic past life events. This is an anonymised self-referral service, where clients can contact us over the telephone or social media. 

Here are a couple of sample quotes from current clients that mention how we are providing an alternative to overstretched NHS services.

1. Man in 20s who grew up in a home where his father abused his mother for many years. Client presented with trauma, depression, severe anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal ideation, chronic fatigue, digestive and sleep problems:

“I really do feel like the treatments are helping. I can speak and talk about what’s going on. Not just be told ‘It’s trauma and we can’t help you’ which is what I’ve had from doctors in the past. I’m hesitant to go to the Doctor now because I’ve just been dismissed so many times that I don’t even feel I want to go and see my GP, whereas this therapy really helps.” 

2. Woman in 30s with a history of physical and emotional domestic abuse, suicidal ideation, depression, digestive and sleep problems:

“I feel better for 3-4 days after the treatment – happier, mentally more relaxed, positive feelings, positive vibes. It helps my digestion and I sleep better that night and the next night.” 

 “I feel more confident to cope with my relationship. My patience level has increased, and I feel more secure and safe.” 

“Without this I would have had depression and low confidence. I feel shy to talk to people and I would have had to go to the doctor for anti-depressants again, but now I feel I can manage myself.” 

Can you provide an anonymous case example?

The therapist at Sikh Sanjog discussed with Mary on having Pranic Therapy/Counselling.

Mary (pseudonym) found the Pranic Therapy very helpful and started to feel different about herself: Mary was in her early 50s with a history of nearly 30 years physical, emotional and psychological domestic abuse. Before we started treatments she was suffering from the effects of prolonged trauma, including depression, brain fog, severe anxiety, panic attacks, compulsive behaviours, insomnia, and a number of associated physical symptoms. She was unable to leave the house on her own and had been forced to give up her work in the voluntary sector because she was unable to concentrate on day-to-day tasks or cope with the pressure of working.

“The good thing is that it’s not like normal counselling – you don’t have to go back and re-live that bad place you were in. This heals the past without having to talk about it and put yourself back in that bad place again.”

“I really notice the difference if I miss a week. I’m scared of losing it, it’s the one thing that keeps me going.”

“I feel like a broken jigsaw, and when I get the Pranic Healing it’s like all the jigsaw pieces start to come together.”

“Without it there’s no light and I get deeper and deeper. Normal counselling sessions leave you in a terrible state as they take you back to day one, leave you feeling terrible for a week, then pick up where you left off a week later at the next session.”

In sum, this self-report evaluates that Sikh Sanjog offers support to Domestic Abuse Victims including breaking down isolation; building up confidence; employability; counselling service; one to one support and education. It is a taboo to talk about domestic abuse openly in the Sikh community. They have created an innovation for Sikh Sanjog in supporting women in family dynamics, offering discrete support in the Sikh community so that Sikh women subjected to domestic violence will have a safe place for help and support. Sikh Sanjog uniquely manages to offer this service in a manner that domestic abuse victims can come and discuss the abuse in a confidential setting, with appraised therapeutic provision. 

For further information on Sikh Sanjog please follow this link to our website: www.sikh See also our report Sikh Women Speak (2021).

Trishna Singh, OBE is the Founder/Director of Sikh Sanjog and Scotland’s first Sikh women’s social enterprise Punjabi Junction Social Enterprise. Special thanks to members of Sikhs in Academia in aiding the publishing of these works as a good practise model of global innovation.)


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