by Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate
Name: Gunreet Sethi
Department Affiliation: Sociology, third year
Hometown: Surrey, BC
Occupation: Director at the Voices for Hope Foundation
Fun Fact: Sethi is a big fan of Marvel and Harry Potter. Her Hogwarts house is Hufflepuff.
At a young age, Gunreet Sethi was actively involved in numerous volunteer initiatives and projects, including making her own documentary Everything is Beauty. Reflecting on her past experiences, she realized the importance of amplifying voices of marginalized communities, and this lesson continues to shape her role as one of the Voices for Hope Foundation’s directors.
After witnessing and experiencing the prevalence of mental health stigmatization, Sethi helped establish the Voices for Hope Foundation. Through an intersectional framework, the foundation addressed therapy inaccessibility for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks. Additionally, Voices for Hope explores the stigmas around mental health through workshops, campaigns, therapy grant programs, and more. In honour of her work with the Voices for Hope Foundation, the Surrey Board of Trade awarded her with the Top 25 Under 25 Award.
Barriers to Seeking Mental Health Support
During an interview with The Peak, Sethi expressed her concern that “marginalized communities’ experiences are very homogenized.” Without the acknowledgement of intersectionality and the diverse experiences among the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, disparities are overlooked. She also explained that the pandemic exacerbated mental health challenges, as reflected by LGBTQ+ people of colour moving back home and the disproportionate amount of Asian hate crimes. The Vancouver Police Department release a report stating that from 2019 to 2020, “[a]nti-Asian hate crime incidents rose by 717%.”
When asked about how mental health systems can become more accessible to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ clients, Sethi emphasized the long overdue need for culturally appropriate and anti-racist mental health services and greater diversity among mental health practitioners. She hopes these reforms will be implemented to address the underlying issue of mental health services being Eurocentric, as she experienced these challenges herself.
“When I was an immigrant and I was coming in, although my English was good, the culturally-specific counselling was not available to me. I did not have anyone to share my experiences [. . . ] of coming to Canada and leaving home behind,” explained Sethi.
Culturally appropriate counselling would be especially beneficial for Indigenous and Black communities, as the mental health staff would consist of “people who know the history, who know what intergenerational trauma can look like, because these communities are very much targeted by colonial violence at a disproportionately high rate.”
BC’s Medical Services Plan (MSP) covers the Fraser Health region’s costs for community mental health centres and psychiatrists, but only psychologists and counsellors working with hospitals or mental health teams offer publicly funded services. To address therapy’s financial burden and support clients seeking mental health services, the Voices for Hope Foundation is designing a therapy grant program for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ applicants with financial need.
Health-care and Essential Services Heroes
Acknowledging the long overdue need to address frontline health-care workers’ mental health, Voices for Hope aims to support local health-care heroes by supplementing essential items and “bring[ing] some joy and inspir[ing] self-care.” Funded by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Passion to Purpose community service grant from His Royal Highness, the Voices of Hope Foundation’s upcoming project will deliver hot meals and care packages containing items such as lotions, lip balms, mask extenders, and badge reels, to Surrey Memorial Hospital. These packages will also support local BIPOC businesses.
Sethi explained that frontline workers require ongoing support for their mental health, because public support has dwindled over time.
“The mental health of the frontline health-care workers actually have been vastly ignored through the entirety of the pandemic. They’re the ones dealing with compounding trauma every day, which has led not only to low morale in society but it has led to a very real impact on their mental well being as well,” she said.
Striving for Change
Reflecting on what the pandemic taught her, Sethi emphasized the importance of adaptability. In her role as an outreach worker at the John Howard Society Pacific and the Voices for Hope Foundation’s director, she learned to adapt to better serve her community.
“We are trying to lead by example, essentially, and we are hoping that it will inspire the next generation,” said Sethi. “Also, again, our main focus of our advocacy work is to shed the light on the challenges faced by marginalized communities, so we want to destigmatize the way mental health and substance issues are viewed in society through our work.”
Supporters can stay updated with the Voices for Hope Foundation’s initiatives by following their Instagram, @voicesforhope.ca, collaborating with the foundation, and increasing public awareness of their advocacy.