Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan, Psychiatrist
Meet Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan, a Board Certified Physician specializing in adult, child, and adolescent psychiatry. Anandhi currently runs a private practice in Los Angeles, in addition to serving as an independent contractor for non-profit agencies with the Department of Mental Health. She has made several media appearances including CNN and USA Today, and today shares with us her story of resilience, hard work and passion - and how she makes an incredible impact every day with her patients.
“I was born in Chennai and came to the U.S. when I was four years old. My brother and I grew up in East Liberty, Pittsburgh, and our parents were very involved with our local temple in our childhood. I grew up learning Bharatanatyam, Carnatic violin and Sanskrit. In addition to Indian cultural activities, I ran cross country, participated in the ski club and played in our school orchestra – life was very busy with a lot of these activities!
Back then, there really wasn’t much diversity at my schools. My high school was mostly Caucasian and other kids didn’t really understand our culture. All the stereotypes about Asian people were reinforced by my school community, and it was tough to be seen as such a novelty to my peers.
When I was in 9th grade, I participated in a program called ‘Medical Explorers’ at the University of Pittsburgh. That exposed me more deeply to medicine (my mother and uncle were also doctors) – we did a pig valve transplant and had so many unique experiences like that, which really inspired my interest in medicine.
Towards the end of my high school years, my family and I made the decision that I’d go back to India for college and medical school. We had already taken out quite a bit of financial aid for my brother’s university studies, and medical school was more direct of a path in India so we thought going back to India made the most sense.
Moving to India was a really tough transition and quite the culture shock. Academics were very rigorous and everyone was a genius – my classmates would read 500 page textbooks and they could tell you the specific paragraph and page every answer was on. I’d get food poisoning too here and there, but overall, I had never been as intellectually challenged in my life as I was in India. It was also really great to understand how we could take care of people in poverty who otherwise wouldn’t get any help at all.
Reflecting back on my experiences, I can now really see the differences between education in the West vs. East. In the West, it’s much easier to give up at something and think you’re not good at it. But in India, there’s much more of a philosophy of beating a concept into the ground until you really understand it, no matter how difficult it is.”
Early Years in Medicine to a Career in Psychiatry
“After medical school, I came back to Pittsburgh and started out with a year of neuroimaging research, and then somehow got into Duke for residency! I did my adult psychiatry residence there, then came to UCLA for a fellowship in child psychiatry. Once I started residency, one door opened up after another, and I’ve since started my own practice and am self-employed. I’ve also been doing some medical journalism over the years and am very fortunate I can pursue journalism with the foundation in my practice.
How did I choose psychiatry? Well, I actually started out really liking surgery. But through surgery, I also realized that emotional recovery was just as important as physical recovery.
As I pursued neuroimaging research in Pittsburgh, I became more fascinated by how the brain works. My boss was a child psychiatrist, and from working with her, I realized how much we really don’t know about the brain compared to other parts of the body.
With psychiatry, you can really make a big difference even with small interventions. If you identify abuse for example at a young age, you can make a huge impact on the child’s life with the right treatments and a trusted relationship with your patient. Psychiatry has also helped me put my own life in perspective – you think you’ve got problems, but then you listen to a young child tell you about seeing their parents get hurt and you’ve suddenly gotten a reality check.
Psychiatry is also really tough – it’s a daily grind and there’s a huge sense of accountability with your patients. It’s not a job where you can take much time off since I always have patients who need to be seen. It’s also a field with delayed gratification – sometimes it takes a whole lot of time spent with your patients before you start seeing outcomes.”
Her Journey of Finding Love
“Coming back to the U.S. from India was another culture shock. All my friends were much more fashionable and socially savvy than I was, as I just hadn’t had the same exposure in India.
I knew I wasn’t ready for marriage in my early 20s – I wanted to live on my own, be financially stable, get my life going professionally and then settle down. However, my parents did introduce me to some people in our community. At the time, I don’t think I was necessarily able to see things big picture. I would project forward into how my life would be if something didn’t add up with the people I was meeting, and in retrospect, may have been overly cautious. Over the years, I’ve since realized that things aren’t always the same one, five, or ten years later, and that life has an element of unpredictability. I was searching for what seemed to be a rare combination of compatibility and connection. Sometimes the quiet ones are the loyal, steadfast partners, and sometimes the gregarious, charismatic ones are not the best life partners.
Last year, I took a trip to Greece where I worked with refugees - I’d decided then that if it wasn’t my time, I’d dedicate my life to my professional development, volunteer work, and traveling. And soon after I came back, my friend arranged a date with the guy who is now my husband!
Looking back, I’ve realized sometimes the timing of meeting the right person can be out of your control. Being single for a while probably allowed me to accomplish much more professionally that I otherwise may not have done as quickly, but there are always trade offs. Professional commitments can serve to isolate, and when you’re living a fast life, it can be hard to invest enough time in another person.”
Mental Health in the South Asian Community
“I’ve seen that minorities are often not willing to seek help for mental health issues. They are ashamed and don’t understand mental health as much as they do their physical ailments.”
“It’s so important to de-stigmatize mental health. I’ve had two Indian friends of mine commit suicide – one was a high school friend and the other was a successful med school peer. So yes, depression is unfortunately fatal in our community.
As immigrants and first-born children to immigrants, there’s often a lot of pressure we feel academically, professionally and personally, which increases our chances of having anxiety or other mental health issues.
I’ve seen that minorities are often not willing to seek help for mental health issues. They are ashamed and don’t understand mental health as much as they do their physical ailments. Part of building awareness is spreading the word among your friends and family, and also seeing someone close to you experience a mental health issue and seek therapy.
There’s no shortage however of Indians who do try to talk to me in private. People are trying to reach out more, and what’s key is that they want somebody they can really trust who understands them. Indian families have become very attached to me because I can relate to their specific experiences.”