A virtual team of Asian therapists, who met on Facebook, are offering tips on how to bridge the initial conversations with your Asian parents about mental health.
Founded by Christopher Vo, a marriage and family therapist based in Houston, the Asian Mental Health Collective (AMHC or the Collective) is the first mental health organization centering around the Asian community.
In 2018, Vo and his peer, Jedidiah Chun, a therapist based out of San Gabriel, Calif., met in the Subtle Asian Mental Health group on Facebook and were astounded by the open and vulnerable conversations happening there, according to VoyageLA.
For the first time, many Asians were discussing 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 that spark came the Collective, and its team of mental health experts and professional volunteers. Although Chun stepped back from executive duties, the team expanded to include board members and they are aiming to have five by August.
The Collective continues to provide resources tailored specifically for Asians, destigmatize mental health while moderating a growing mental health forum with over 58,000 members — a commitment that they say is a challenge but an honor. They are also planning for sustainable initiatives going into the 2021 and 2022 years, such as subsidized therapy, long-term strategy with organizations like SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and long-term sponsorships.
“We hope that these conversations will lead people to connect with mental health professionals,” the AMHC team explained in an interview with NextShark. “We understand that this process can be daunting, which is why we do our best to walk our members through the process from start to finish.”
They spoke of a noticeable rise in activity and number of members in the SAMH group to come out of the pandemic.
“The most common topics members in our community have discussed are anxiety, family relationships, and racism.”
The shift into teletherapy was a hesitant move because, as TIME stated, there’s an “in-office intimacy” and “ritual” in being physically present in a familiar space that gives comfort and, at times, stability. To suddenly and indefinitely substitute a change that uprooted this familiarity worried clients about initially exploring virtual therapy.
However, “there has never been a better time to access therapy,” the Collective said. After over a year of navigating and normalizing telehealth, “clients have reported just as much success and as strong of a connection with their therapists.”
The convenience of a virtual space made scheduling appointments and coordinating group sessions easier as it eliminated concerns of time zones, locations and travel fees.
“It’s no longer just therapy for people who have a lot of disposable income,” Vo told FOX 26.
The AMHC team also offered insight into why Asian parents might carry a stubbornness and outright reject discussing mental health, how to approach the initial conversation with them and, if it comes down to it, what you should do if they cannot be budged.
“Societal change starts with individual families, and while such families may exist within broken systems, they do not have to perpetuate them,” Chun said.
Why some Asian parents might not believe in mental health
There are all manner of reasons why negative stigmas exist when it comes to mental health, and the Collective explained that the concept of “saving face” may play a big role in it.
“‘Saving face’ permeates through Asian communities. It’s putting your best foot forward to those outside of your immediate family, while silently bearing your personal struggles,” they said.
Similar to how some people might present only the best parts of their life on social media, many Asian families feel a cultural pressure to highlight success and push it to the forefront; which often creates that familiar tension between the Asian community and handling the topic of mental health.
Three strategies to try starting a conversation about mental health with your Asian parents
Family dynamics are deeply important and “there is a noticeable divide between the older generation and younger generation around mental health,” they said.
1. Stay patient in the process of introducing mental health topics.
The Collective: “By recognizing that our parents’ generation may never have had the time and the space to reflect on mental health, we can model and extend empathy in these mental health conversations. If your parents lack the vocabulary and understanding of mental health, try to center the language around things they do understand.
An Asian parent may not have a connection with the word ‘anxiety’ but they would certainly understand ‘worrying’ or ‘stress.’ Depression may be hard for them to understand, perhaps explaining it as a deep hurt would help them to connect. These are not perfect examples, but it is important to find what language works for the individual.”
2. Model vulnerability around mental health with your parents.
The Collective: “It is helpful to ease into discussions about mental health by talking about your own experiences or even things you see online. Demanding vulnerability from a culture centered around stoicism and saving face can be difficult.
Oftentimes the older generation view therapists as outsiders meddling with family affairs. To be vulnerable to an outsider is to admit that your family is so ‘broken’ that it needs outside intervention. This isn’t necessarily true, and can be reframed in a way that Asian parents may be better to understand.”
3. Try to frame the therapist as the expert.
The Collective: “Many Asian cultures defer to authority. That is why there is such a push for their children to seek high power positions (doctor, lawyer, etc.). Utilize these power dynamics to open up some of these conversations about mental health.
Try to avoid putting your parents on the defensive; instead of saying the therapist is there to ‘fix’ your parents, the expert is there to better explain concepts you’re having difficulty describing. You could even simply open up the door by telling your parents you want them to meet your therapist to talk about some things you’ve been working on.
When selecting a clinician, make sure they understand these cultural dynamics. Interview them beforehand to make sure that they are culturally sensitive.”
Consistently setting clear boundaries and learning to say no.
The AMHC team described the former as a “relatively newer concept for Asian cultures” but one that is just as vital in preserving your emotional well-being.
Healthy emotional boundaries help in two ways: guiding your positive relationships and protecting you from negative experiences.
“In many cases, there is room for repair for families that are struggling with therapy and specifically boundary work,” they said.
You determine what a “healthy family dynamic” should look like; not from another person’s expectations.
That could mean drawing physical boundaries and limiting contact, or establishing emotional boundaries and disengaging when it comes to certain topics that trigger you.
If all other attempts fail
You must ultimately decide what is best for your own mental well-being.
“You cannot pour from an empty cup.”
While “not every relationship can be salvaged,” the Collective said that the decision to cut off your family members doesn’t have to be a permanent one. If you feel the relationship is damaging and doesn’t do anything to promote your self-preservation, you must do what is right for you.
To better aid your mental health journey or help others with theirs, the AMHC team also offer these free resources, tips and events:
A recording of their TransformAsian virtual conference from January, touching on the power of change, personal growth, and the importance of acknowledging and celebrating recovery. It also featured a celebrated panel of speakers, performers and entrepreneurs.
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