Being Diasporic & Elderly

Last Thursday (21/02/08), I spent time with the folks who run Persian Adult Day Care at the MRCF. As I mentioned in an early post, I will be examining this group a bit more and sharing with you interesting situations that I come across.

I had a chance to speak with the founder of Persian Adult Day Care, Ms. Roohy Shahin, a hypnotherapist by training. She indicated that the main reason for establishing this group was to allow elderly Iranians to all come together and have a place to meet and socialize with one another. As with all diasporas- often times, elderly relations also migrate so that they can be closer to their children. This is very true among those in the Iranian diaspora. Depending on the age which they have arrived from Iran, some of the more adventurous will learn English and try to communicate with non-Iranians in addition to their grandchildren (2nd & 3rd generation). However, often times, the elderly population who have migrated don’t learn English. They begin to feel very marginalize, lonely, and it doesn’t take long for depression to result from having no one to talk to and being completely reliant on their children and grandchildren for help. Of course, this sort of family set up isn’t healthy in the long term, and often creates many family dysfunctions, including estrangement between family members.

Shahin has utilized her qualifications to address the issues of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and developing good family relations among other topics. After lunch times, Shahin will usually bring up a issue or situation and explain what is (mentally) healthy and sound versus a unhealthy way of tackling problem or issue. Shahin mentioned during our chat that she often repeats concepts over and over again in order from them to think about it thoughtfully. Although some of the people who attended appeared to not be listening, there were others who seemed engaged in what Shahin was explaining to them. I spoke to one older gentleman in Farsi and he said that, “What Khanoom [Lady] Shahin says is true. In Iran, young people get married and don’t understand what marriage is and people wonder why these marriages don’t work and why everyone is getting divorces. They need to see someone like Shahin in order to understand what they are engaging in. It is the same with raising children and general family life. There needs to be someone who can provide guidance.”

I was surprised by what he said given that many Iranians loath psychologists and see it and anything to do with mental health as being a “quack” science. In Iran, traditionally, if you are depressed you talk about your sadness to family and other relatives. You may even make a pilgrimage to a religious shrine and ask God for guidance. It is rare that someone seek out medical attention for this matter- unless you are educated or upper class.  Changes are being made within Iran to promote mental health issues and to educate the population about mental health. However, by and large, whether in Iran or within the Iranian diaspora, talking about mental health and/or being mentally ill is still considered taboo.

Anyway, I’m going to present a question to the readers: are there any articles and essays that explore mental health within a diaspora, specifically regarding intergeneration issues?


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Filed under activism, Iranian diaspora, research

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