By Sonia Kotecha, LCSW
As an Asian American, I have grown up learning the game of silence very well. Asian Americans have historically been labeled in the United States media as the “model minority,” lauded for a strong work ethic and strong family unit. This stereotype lumps all Asian groups as one and does not account for the diversity in the community with regards to ethnicity, socio-economic status, immigration history, barriers to acculturation, and much more. Many Asian Americans, including myself, have internalized this stereotype. There is a great deal of pressure to always present and perform well in school and in the workplace, and to be loyal to one’s family by not revealing any secrets that would bring about perceived shame and weakness. As a consequence, many of us suffer in silence, thus perpetuating the stereotype that Asians don’t need assistance.
As a professional Social Worker, I am aware of the life-threatening repercussions of keeping quiet. Unfortunately, studies show that the Asian Pacific American community has the highest rate of depressive symptoms of any racial/ethnic groups but the lowest rates of utilization of mental health services, which may be due to stigma as well as cultural and linguistic isolation. As the month of May marks Asian Pacific Heritage month and Mental Health Awareness Month, we decided to marry the two with a half-day workshop to raise awareness of mental health issues in the Asian Pacific American community.
The Asian Behavioral Health Network (ABHN), an Austin-based grassroots organization, provides professional development and networking opportunities for behavioral health professionals and hosts an online directory of local providers experienced in working with Austin’s growing Asian community. We recognize that the work of ABHN cannot be done alone. In the last two years we have been privileged to join forces with the YWCA of Greater Austin to provide an annual training session for mental health professionals, advocates and the general public. Given the YWCA of Greater Austin’s mission to eliminate racism, expansive network of mental health providers, and strong presence in the community, ABHN has a forum to share information and resources to breakdown cultural and linguistic barriers so that our community of providers can meet the needs of all members of our society.
Since the subject of mental illness is so taboo in Asian cultures, the stories about the experiences of mental illness are often left untold. This year we screened a powerful documentary by Pearl Parks, “Can: What Does it Take to Heal from Mental Illness?” The subject of the film, Can Truong, a Vietnamese-American, shares his own diagnosis with depression and bipolar disorder. Prior to the screening, we streamed a live briefing on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health by the White House Initiative on Asian American Pacific Islanders. Participants heard personal testimony and learned about federal resources. A panel discussion with local experts followed the briefing and film screening.