Asian therapists online give advice on how to de-stigmatize, talk to parents about mental health
A virtual team of Asian therapists, who met on Facebook, offer advice on how to relate initial conversations with your Asian parents about mental health.
Founded by Christopher Vo, a Houston-based marriage and family therapist, the Asian Mental Health Collective (AMHC or the collective) is the premier mental health organization focused on the Asian community.
In 2018, Vo and her peer, Jedidiah Chun, a therapist based in San Gabriel, Calif., Met in the Subtle Asian mental health group on Facebook and were stunned by the open and vulnerable conversations taking place there, according to TravelLA.
For the first time, many Asians were chatting and connecting about mental health issues, Asian identity and their deepest emotions. The duo found a real need for “An opportunity to offer our guidance for a growing community that was both compassionate and struggling.”
From this spark was born the Collective and its team of mental health experts and volunteer professionals. Although Chun has stepped down from his executive role, the team has expanded to include board members and they aim to have five by August.
The Collective continues to provide resources specifically designed for Asians to de-stigmatize mental health while also facilitating a growing mental health forum with over 58,000 members – a commitment they say is a challenge but an honor. They also plan sustainable initiatives in the years 2021 and 2022, like subsidized therapy, long term strategy with organizations like SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and long term sponsorships.
“We hope these conversations will bring people into contact with mental health professionals,” the AMHC team explained in an interview with NextShark. “We understand that this process can be intimidating, which is why we do our best to walk our members through the process from start to finish.”
They mentioned a notable increase in the activity and the number of members of the SAMH group to come out of the pandemic.
“The topics most frequently discussed by members of our community are anxiety, family relationships and racism.“
The switch to teletherapy was a hesitant move because, as TIME Said, there is an “office intimacy” and a “ritual” to being physically present in a familiar space that provides comfort and, at times, stability. Suddenly and indefinitely substituting for a change that uprooted this familiarity worried clients about the initial exploration of virtual therapy.
however, “There has never been a better time to access therapy,” said the Collective. After more than a year of navigation and standardization of telehealth, “Clients have reported so much success and such a strong bond with their therapists.”
The convenience of a virtual space made it easier to schedule appointments and coordinate group sessions, eliminating the hassle of time zones, locations, and travel costs.
“It is no longer just therapy for people with a lot of disposable income”, Vo said FOX 26.
The AMHC team also provided insight into why Asian parents can lead to stubbornness and outright rejection of discussing mental health, how to approach the initial conversation with them, and if it comes down to it, what you should do if they can’t budge.
“Societal change begins with individual families, and while those families can exist in broken systems, they don’t have to perpetuate them.” Chun said.
Why some Asian parents might not believe in mental health
There are all kinds of reasons why negative stigma exists in mental health, and the Collective explained that the concept of “saving face” can play a big part.
“Save Face” permeates Asian communities. It is giving your best to those who are not your immediate family, while silently enduring your personal struggles. ” they said.
Just as some people present only the best moments of their life on social media, many Asian families feel a cultural pressure to highlight success and push it to the fore; which often creates this familiar tension between the Asian community and the treatment of the subject of mental health.
Three strategies for trying to start a conversation about mental health with your Asian parents
Family dynamics are deeply important and “There is a noticeable gap between the older generation and the younger generation when it comes to mental health,” they said.
1. Stay patient in the process of introducing mental health topics.
Collective: “By recognizing that our parents’ generation may never have had the time and space to think about mental health, we can mold and extend empathy in these conversations about mental health. If your parents lack vocabulary and understanding about mental health, try to focus the language on things they understand.
An Asian parent may not have a connection to the word “anxiety”, but they will certainly understand “worrying” or “stress”. Depression can be hard for them to figure out, maybe explaining it as a deep hurt would help them connect. These are not perfect examples, but finding the right language for the individual is important. “
2. Model mental health vulnerability with your parents.
Collective: “It helps to facilitate discussions about mental health by talking about your own experiences or even things you see online. Demanding the vulnerability of a stoic-centric culture and saving face can be difficult.
Often the older generation sees therapists as strangers meddling in family matters. Being vulnerable to a stranger is admitting that your family is so “broken” that they need outside intervention. This is not necessarily true and can be reframed in a way that Asian parents might better understand. “
3. Try to present the therapist as the expert.
Collective: “Many Asian cultures rely on authority. This is why there is such a push for their children to seek high-level positions (doctor, lawyer, etc.). Use these power dynamics to open some of these conversations about mental health.
Try to avoid putting your parents on the defensive; instead of saying that the therapist is there to “fix” your parents, the expert is there to better explain concepts that you are having trouble describing. You can even just open the door by telling your parents that you want them to meet with your therapist to talk about some of the things you’ve been working on.
When selecting a clinician, make sure he understands these cultural dynamics. Interview them beforehand to make sure they are culturally sensitive. “
Consistently set clear boundaries and learn to say no.
The AMHC team described the former as a “Relatively newer concept for Asian cultures” but one that is just as vital to preserving your emotional well-being.
Healthy emotional boundaries help you in two ways: by guiding your positive relationships and by protecting you from negative experiences.
“In many cases there is room for reparations for families who are having difficulty with therapy and in particular delineation work” they said.
You determine what a “healthy family dynamic” should look like; not another person’s expectations.
It could mean drawing physical boundaries and limiting contact, or setting emotional boundaries and disengaging when it comes to certain topics that trigger you.
If all other attempts fail
You ultimately have to decide what is best for your own mental well-being.
“You cannot pour from an empty cup.”
While “Not all relationships can be saved”, the Collective said the decision to cut your family members doesn’t have to be permanent. If you think the relationship is damaging and isn’t doing anything to promote your self-preservation, you need to do what’s right for you.
To better help you in your mental health journey or to help others in theirs, the AMHC team also offers these free resources, tips and events:
A recording of their TransformAsian Virtual Conference starting in January, addressing the power of change, personal growth, and the importance of recognizing and celebrating recovery. It also featured a renowned panel of speakers, artists and entrepreneurs.
Tune to the “Asia rises together”Benefit concert, where all donations will go to AMHC and include a exceptional group of artists and performers. The live stream will air on May 26 at 7 p.m. PT via 88rising’s Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and SiriusXM.
Volunteer with AMHC and complete their application here. (They welcome volunteers from all over the world, “For a wider reach and better cross-cultural understanding of mental health in Asia.”)
Workouts online, stay connected with friends by playing virtual games, or participate in fun-focused online communities.
“Social distancing does not necessarily mean social isolation”, they said. “If you start to feel lost, know that you have a community within the Asian Mental Health Collective.”
Featured Image via Asian Mental Health Collective
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