The story of Taarika Foundation by Dr. Leena A. Khanzode
Taarika means “Little stars” in the Sanskrit language. The Foundation started from a deep desire by a few of us to serve the community we live in to deal with mental health issues in teens. The story of how Taarika started is deeply personal.
I entered the field of psychiatry because of my personal experience of seeing my family struggle to live with my father, who had Bipolar disorder. I also learned that he had been struggling with this illness since he was a teen, but it went unrecognized or treated till his late adulthood. During my training in General Psychiatry, I understood that if the illness is treated early it can mean more fulfilling life for the patients and their families. This is when I decided to become a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. I graduated from the Stanford Child and Adolescent Psychiatry fellowship program in 2009 and joined as a staff psychiatrist at a non-profit- Bay Area Children’s Association, that provides mental health care to the children and teens in the community. I then gradually moved into private practice in 2011.
I have found my work to be fulfilling and rewarding when I treat my patients because it not only helps the child but their whole family. However, my heart breaks when I see my teen patients coming in with severe anxiety and depression, with self -harm behaviors and/or suicidal attempts and more so when I learn from them that they have been feeling this way for 1-2 years, but no one knew about it. Their parents are often dumbfounded when they see their kids hurt themselves and have no idea why they did not recognize it earlier and got them help sooner. Parents often struggle to tease out what is normal teen behavior and what is anxiety and depression?
I also noticed that teens are getting stressed out easily and don’t have effective stress management strategies and as a result are developing anxiety disorders and clinical depression quickly.
Finally, the wave of cluster suicides of teen in our region really disturbed me, and I went on a quest to find out how we can prevent some of this damage in its roots itself.
I thought of different ideas to contribute in some way to the support the youth in our community, some of them being:
Offer live consultation service to the pediatricians to guide them to recognize and treat mental health conditions in children and teens, since they are first seen by them.
Create an integrative care model, where pediatricians and psychiatrist/mental health professionals are in the same building, next to each other and so the patient can be seen immediately for treatment.
I tried to work on these ideas by meeting different systems of care in the community, but they seem to be difficult to pan out for multiple good reasons. I strongly believe in the Mantra “Prevention is better than Cure”, which led me to think about things we could do to prevent the kids from getting stressed out, being anxious and depressed and harm/hurt themselves. That led to the idea of forming a non-profit and define its mission. Then, I met with a couple like-minded fellow child psychiatrists- Dr. Vidya Krishnan and Dr. Smita Thakkar and talked about my journey on this quest to do something meaningful for the youth in the community through our professional knowledge. They understood it immediately and agreed to help me form this non-profit and be on the board.