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I was so honored to host a conversation focused on mental health in the AAPI community with AsianBossGirl podcast co-host Helen Wu, Channel Kindness reporter Elissa Lee, and mental health expert Andrew Subica. Together, we covered topics such as stigma within the family, mental health in relation to pandemic/COVID-19 and associated hate crimes, and, of course, the specific stressors that affect the AAPI community and differences and disparities between different ethnicities within AAPI.
We also touched on how we can be there for each other as people + a community, and what resources are available to us the AAPI community. I hope this exchange about mental health in the AAPI community helps continue the conversation in your own lives. I invite you to check out some of my favorite highlights from the conversation below:
On experiences of mental health in AAPI community:
Jasmine: I had this experience this weekend where I actually opened up to my parents and they were a little bit shocked to find out that I was depressed while I was in high school, and it opened up that conversation. It’s why panels like this and conversations about mental health in the AAPI community are so important.
Helen: We live in a world that’s very much go, go, go, and this is how you should live, family and society tell us that these are things that we should value, that we forget to take time and space to think for ourselves. This becomes an issue among the AAPI community when we don’t have enough conversations about what matters to us individually.
Elissa: I also think that the language and understanding around mental health [between the East and West] is not necessarily better in one way or the other, but is just different. Research shows that Asians tend to somatize their mental health symptoms… I think it’s just a different way of understanding mental health, with Western medicine tends to separate the two – mind and body, whereas Eastern medicine looks at it more holistically. And that leaves us in the Asian American community, two sometimes conflicting ideas about what health is.
Helen: These are times that are incredibly difficult, but we do need to be stronger together and support one another, and not be complacent during these times.
Elissa: I think now, more than ever, everyone has to take care of themselves and take care of each other as we face this worldwide pandemic together. AAPI, as you know, have been the target of hate crimes and I myself and other friends I’ve talked to have experienced discrimination and fear of going outside. Asian restaurants and businesses are facing discriminations and many are struggling to stay in business or are going out of business… Now, more than ever, we need to bond together and educate people and stand up against hate.
Andrew: It’s stressful. It’s really, really stressful. There is this stigma and discrimination that we have been talking about and that’s a huge part of what has been going on but the other part I think we should be acknowledging that COVID-19 itself is stressful. This is just unprecedented.
This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime event. And we are stuck at home, we are stuck with family, we cannot do the things that we want to do, and so giving ourselves the room to experience the anger and frustration that we are feeling, I think it’s really important. It’s OK to be upset around COVID-19 even outside of all the other pressures of being AAPI.
On resources for the community:
Jasmine: One thing that all of us need to learn all about and share with others is what are the resources that we are turning to support our own mental wellness. For myself, I do yoga and meditate but I don’t really know any other resources for myself or my friends in the AAPI community.
Elissa: In occupational therapy, we often discuss with our patients strengths and supports. And it’s really fascinating to me, that the mental health strategies and supports that we use today in America come from very Eastern and Asian practices and traditions, like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. These are practices that help us become more aware of our body and our breath, that have been in Asian cultures forever. And they really do help me manage stress, become aware of my emotions and the impact of trauma on our bodies, and really foster that mind-body connection. So we got this stuff in our culture and it is something that’s very comforting to me when I’m practicing.
Andrew: And I think that is probably number 1 on my list, and that is don’t try to deal with things on your own. It’s entirely normal to feel stressed or upset. I have been pretty upset and frustrated this whole time, and I’m a psychologist. It makes all the sense in the world, but you need to talk to friends or family. It doesn’t have to be a therapist, someone like myself. Even social media has been amazing in this regard. You can go onto Facebook and get a lot of support that way. If we are talking formally, there is a great website that has resources for AAPI, and that is Asian Americans Advancing Justice has a website for COVID-19 for AAPI, and one of them is to Standing Against Hatred where you can go on and post about the experiences, discrimination that you might be having or someone you know might be having. They have bystander intervention training, the reason for us to do this right now is because at this time we want to have a sense of empowerment. When you are experiencing discrimination, and prejudice, feeling empowered as part of your community actually can give you that sense of solidarity to improve your mental health.
Andrew: Finally, taking care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, listening to music. It does not have to be formal, just listening to music and going out for a walk. These types of things really heal the spirit, the soul. These are things that are really important at this time.
Helen: I think offering the support of just asking the question of not just of “How is your day going?” but “How are you really doing?” has been a game-changer between myself and my friends as well, in having deeper conversations… Everyone says that we are doing fine, but if you dig a little bit deeper it becomes very nuanced of what those feelings are, and having an outlet to feel safe to talk about if they are being discriminated against, they need to have an outlet to talk to someone about stuff. Hopefully this person can be that person for their friend.
Please see below for helpful resources:
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
The Asian American Psychological Association | AAPA