Growing up, I remember feeling out of place and never really belonging. One of the first memorable experiences I recall as a child growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood was the shock I encountered when I first stepped through the doors of my pre-school. I have no idea why, but in my head, I imagined a classroom full of kids that looked like me. That was certainly not the case, and I am relieved not everyone looked like me in hindsight, but it was definitely a culture shock. I had one other Korean friend who also happened to live in the same apartment complex as I did, so I felt safe in the sense that I had him next to me, but everyone else felt foreign and far out of reach. My English wasn’t also the best at this time as my immigrant parents spoke Korean in the house, even though I was born in the United States. Everyone talked differently than I did, we ate different foods, and my parents and I looked different from the majority of the class and their parents.
As a child of immigrants and someone who inherently looks different from the majority, I never quite fit in. I yearned to belong and be American, whatever that even means now. The lack of self-esteem, a sense of embarrassment of my own culture at times, and the guilt and shame of feeling that embarrassment all certainly took a toll on my mental health, which I never fully realized until I started working in the mental health field. Now that I look back on my life with a different lens, I can clearly see that I struggled with deep depression my first year of college, and I always struggled with an underlying level of anxiety throughout most of my life that I never quite understood when I was younger. I just always thought I was weird. It also didn’t help that we never talked about such matters in the household, which I would assume to be true in many Asian homes, especially where the parents are immigrants. It’s not our parents’ fault as they were busy doing their best to raise a family and survive in a foreign country. But not talking about mental health doesn’t do any good for anyone.
There’s a lot I could write about as it relates to the pressures of succeeding as a first generation American, the “model minority” stereotype placed on Asians in the United States, or the notion that we need to integrate to the American culture but then getting backlash from our own because you’re too “white” or have been whitewashed. Then there’s the racism you face every day ranging from micro-aggressions to full on blatant racism where people tell you go to back to your country. Where in the world do you possibly expect me to go when I was born in the United States and have lived here all my life? Beats me! And don’t even get me started on the rise in crime and violence on the AAPI community during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially against our women and elders. It truly breaks my heart to read, see and hear about these incidents and people turning a blind eye to the issue.
My hope in writing this blog is twofold. One is to shed light on the stigma that is pervasive in the AAPI community as it relates to mental health. It’s important that we speak honestly and openly about our struggles and reach out for help when needed. And it is not a failure when you reach out for help! Did you know that suicide is the first leading cause of death among AAPI youth? I’m not surprised, but we don’t talk about this issue enough or we forget to include the AAPI community in the mental health dialogue many times. Our work in mental health needs to be inclusive, and I encourage more of the AAPI community to go into fields of social work, counseling and mental health at large. Sometimes it’s easier to connect with someone who looks like you or someone who may have had similar experiences. It’s important that our professionals are just as diverse as the populations they serve. The second hope is to let someone know that they are not alone. For someone who can relate to my story and is reading this blog, you are not alone and this blog is written for you. There are more resources available to us than ever before, so don’t give up and reach out! My sincere desire is that the younger generations in the AAPI community do not have to feel isolated or like outsiders as I once did. The reason I do what I do today is to bring more awareness to my community. Perhaps by seeing someone that looks like you, it will empower you to become a mental health advocate and a conversation starter in your community. The more voices we have to collectively speak up on the matter, the bigger the impact will be. Below are some resources we hope you will find helpful.
ORGANIZATIONS FOCUSED ON SUPPORTING AAPI COMMUNITIES
Asian Mental Health Project
- Aims to educate and empower Asian communities in seeking mental healthcare
National Organization of Asians and Pacific Islanders Ending Sexual Violence
- PI anti-sexual assault advocates to center the experiences of victim/survivors of sexual violence from the Asian and Pacific Islander communities
Bengali Mental Health Movement
- Provides culturally-specific and linguistically-accessible resources to bridge the gap between the Bengali community and mental health services. They are dedicated to cultivating a network of mental health professionals who can better meet the needs of the Bengali community.
CHAI Counselors (Maryland) (now part of Pro Bono Counseling)
- Dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of South Asian communities in Maryland and helping to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness. CHAI conducts community outreach, partners with local crisis intervention agencies, provides education and resources, and refers those in need to qualified and licensed mental health providers. In 2017, CHAI joined with the Pro Bono Counseling Project to become one of its special programs.
Division on South Asian Americans (DoSAA)
- Intends to be a credible source of information and resources on South Asian mental health issues by 1) providing information on factors affecting South Asian mental health, ranging from broader concerns like immigration and acculturation to everyday issues like parenting and relationships; and 2) creating a nurturing space for mental health clinicians, researchers, and students to engage in collaboration, consultation, and mentorship. Part of the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA).
- Their mission to encourage healthy, open dialogue of South Asian mental health issues in an effort to remove stigma, improve awareness, and promote self-care.
Muslim Mental Health
- Their vision is the long-term mental health and well-being of Muslim communities supported through preventative interventions and education which is accessible, culturally relevant, and academically sound. The Institute of Muslim Mental Health is a non-profit organization dedicated to its CORE mission: Community Outreach, Research, and Education.
- Designed to reduce stigma and increase awareness about emotional health and wellness in the South Asian community. Through easy-to-understand descriptions of numerous emotional health issues, educational workshops, and culturally sensitive coping strategies, they hope to empower the South Asian community to realize their inner fortitude, take charge of their mental health, and make better and more informed decisions for a healthy lifestyle.
- Their goal is to overcome the roadblocks such as the stigma and taboo associated with mental illness and improve the mental health of the South Asian community through educational programs on the importance of mental health and wellness and improved access to care.
South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA)
- Collective of youth organizers who seek to create a safe space for South Asian youth across the diaspora, focusing on adolescence to early adulthood. Their goal is to educate, empower, and find strength as a community to discuss unique experiences as Asian-American young adults, fighting stigma and increasing access to resources, peers, and information on the topics considered taboo or under-represented in our cultures: identity development, sexual health, reproductive health, mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, community-building, consent, and healthy relationships, etc.
Desi LGBQ/T Helpline (DeQH)
- South Asian LGBQ/T peer support helpline that offers free, confidential, culturally sensitive peer support, information and resources for LGBQ/T South Asian individuals, families and friends around the globe.
Naseeha Muslim Youth Helpline
- A Muslim peer-to-peer hotline that provides confidential counseling services on the topics of drugs, alcohol, bullying, religion, marriage and divorce, domestic issues, pornography, mental health, depression and career issues. Services provided to all racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.
South Asian Domestic Violence Helplines
- A comprehensive list of South Asian domestic violence agencies organized by state.
South Asian Mental Health Awareness in Jersey (SAMHAJ) (New Jersey)
- Email: email@example.com and website: https://www.naminj.org/programs/multicultural/samhaj/
- A part of NAMI New Jersey, SAMHAJ provides education, support, and advocacy for South Asians affected by serious mental illness. Offers support groups and bilingual mental health services as well as workshops for mental health providers.
South Asian Network (SAN) (Southern California)
- Founded in 1990 to provide an open forum for people of South Asian origin to gather and discuss social, economic, and political issues affecting the community, with the goal of raising awareness, engagement, and advocacy among community members leading to an empowered and active community. Provides free to low-cost individual, group, family, and couples counseling. Both children and adult services are provided. Also provides referrals to other mental health professionals.
South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA)
- We seek to cultivate and amplify the third culture by celebrating a diversity of South Asian experiences, developing authentic, personally fulfilling values as second-generation South Asian Americans, and interrogating oppressive cultural values and traditions.
PODCAST, MEDIA AND ARTICLES
- Dr. Helen Hsu, a clinical psychologist, provides a helpful primer about supporting the Asian American population during the pandemic and increasing discrimination, including discussion about demographics and recommendations for therapeutic interventions. Interview with Elizabeth Irias, LMFT
AAPI Women Lead-
- Movement dedicated to bringing awareness and education to the discrimination and issues experienced against Asian American Women.
The Full Well Podcast
- Conversations about the intersection of Asian American identity and mental health as we explore our experiences, our beliefs, and what it means to be us.
4 elements to create “home:” discussing mental health in the Asian-American community
Staff Blogger: Jennifer Seo
Jennifer Seo is currently the Deputy Director at the Mental Health Association in Delaware. In this position, she is involved with various groups that work to improve the mental well-being of Delawareans, including the Delaware Suicide Prevention Coalition. She also oversees the various programs and services the agency provides to the community, which includes wellness groups throughout the state of Delaware, Suicide Prevention programming, general mental health awareness presentations, and the Mental Health Court Peer Mentor Program. Jennifer is currently a master trainer for ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training). Previously, she was the Project Director for Suicide Prevention at MHA. She got into this line of work thanks to her mentor and people who took a chance on her. In her spare time, she enjoys getting together with friends, watching movies, especially Disney movies, and a good cup of coffee. One of her favorite books growing up was Matilda and the Harry Potter series.
Guest Blogger: Rochelle Balan
Rochelle Balan (she/her) is a former Community Educator at the Mental Health Association in Delaware, where she was passionate about advocating, educating and supporting communities who are experiencing mental health challenges. Soon after graduating from the University of Delaware in 2016, she enrolled into Widener University’s Social Work Graduate program. Rochelle recently graduated with her MSW in August of 2021. Rochelle started her helping career at the YMCA of Delaware as a School-Age Site Coordinator. Then, she began to work at the Mental Health Association in Delaware and had been with the organization for 5 years where she dedicated her time educating Delawareans on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. She is committed to helping children, families and communities find resourceful information about mental and emotional health.