By Maristela Romero

Mental health is stigmatized just about everywhere, but especially among immigrant families.

University of Maryland students shared anecdotes of how their cultural backgrounds have shaped their mental health at the second annual Immigrant Experience Showcase last December.

The event was primarily hosted by the university’s Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy (MICA) office along with the club Muslim Alliance for Social Change (MASC) to address the stigma against mental health across many cultures, particularly those of non-Western countries.

Students delved into personal stories, poems and ethnic dances on stage while members of MASC cited “mental health minute facts” between performances, which shed light on the susceptibility of immigrant communities to developing mental illnesses.

Ghonva Ghauri, a university alumna and coordinator for MICA, emphasized the power of storytelling and sharing narratives to build and practice empathy.

“We can’t frankly be in someone else’s shoes,” Ghauri said. “But by practicing empathy and seeking out folks with their own stories in their language, in the way they want to explain it, that’s the closest we can get to actually being present and truly understanding someone.”

Later, she described how she came to accept her name, Ghonva, and eventually took pride in its Islamic roots and meaning of “richness in oneself.”

The journey of finding solace in her name and the unique history behind it in connection to her identity was beneficial to her mental well-being, Ghauri said.

Freshman Zamzam Salhan, an education major at Montgomery College with immigrant parents from Somalia, took to the stage to recite a poem about anxiety titled “Pothead.”

An excerpt from her performance:

But I lay awake each night

Running, with my eyes open ‘cuz anxiety got my nightmare game on lock

Set on autoplay of all the worst nightmares our future wants to come.

It’s amazing, he got me all worried about this shit that ain’t even happened yet.

My therapist once told me,

‘Maybe the reason, Zamzam, why you can never get any sleep, is because you’re never at peace.’

But how can I be at peace when my heart is always running?

Azeem Ghauri, a junior psychology major, addressed the difficulty of dealing with depression and anxiety as someone who comes from a Pakistani immigrant family.

Originally, he was pursuing a degree in computer science until he felt the strong urge to learn about himself and his mental illnesses, and felt a calling toward psychology.

In addition to battling his mental illnesses, he struggled with his sense of cultural identity as someone born in Pakistan but raised in the United States. His immigrant parents and American-born siblings left him at a stand still.

“In my culture, depression and anxiety aren’t a thing. There’s no words to describe those,” Ghauri said. “Even though my culture might fear it, I will stand to make that change that people stop fearing what I’ve gone through.”

Though the event was filled with many personal stories, there were also dance performances from the university’s Bhangra group, which specializes in Punjabi Bhangra folk music, and Native American student Max Yamane who shared a traditional dance to “bring joy” to his audience.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pixabay.

Maristela Romero is a sophomore journalism and public health science major and can be reached at

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