Boston — Each May, I look forward to seeing how different Asian and Pacific Islander organizations will celebrate our history for Heritage Month. So I was especially disappointed when the following Tweet hit my feed a couple of weeks ago.
The subheading was extra ironic because May is dedicated to both Asian Pacific American Heritage and Mental Health Awareness. The publication has since deleted the line and replaced it with: “Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included a subheading that was not written by the author and did not represent her views or the article’s content; it has been removed.”
The whole incident was a shame. My community needs platforms to educate readers about how mental health stigmas affect us. Cultural prejudices and misunderstandings help explain why about half as many Asian-Americans reportedly seek mental health support or resources compared to the general population, according to the American Psychological Association. There are stigmas around seeking help as well as language and access barriers that prevent finding or receiving the proper support.
But things might be changing. Among the new outlets that have been cropping up in the past couple years, I’m starting to see mental health as a normalized discussion topic for millennials and Gen Z. We’ve always been told that online access makes it easier to connect with others, and in the case of new publications, organizations, and social media groups, that’s definitely true. The knowledge that you can post a thought or ask a question about mental health in an exclusive, safe space expands awareness and acceptance.
“Sharing personal stories and resources is always useful, particularly when addressing the unique struggles that Asian-Americans face in caring for their mental health,” said Jennifer Duann Fultz, the editor-in-chief of Mochi Magazine.
Mochi Magazine is an online lifestyle publication aimed at millennial Asian-American women. For its editorial site, a staff member pitched the ongoing column, “On Our Minds,” to share stories and resources and break stigmas around mental health. The topic has come up before, but with a specialized series, Fultz said she wants to show readers they can find support and hopefully inspire change in the mental health care available to the Asian-American community.
“But how would I know if a therapist is a good fit for me?” is the kind of question explored in the “On Our Minds” series. (Answer: there’s no formula. It’s about comfort in the therapist’s presence and knowing they’re looking out for your best interests.)
If taking care of mental health or finding help for it comes up in interviews with celebrities and influencers profiled in Mochi Magazine, Fultz said that’s “a small but powerful reminder that mental health is just part of being human.”
Asian Creative Network
The "Asian Creative Network" is a spin-off Facebook group spawned from "subtle asian traits." It connects Asian creatives and features different sub-groups including a space focused on mental health. David Rafanan is the moderator for ACN: Mental/Emotional Health Support. He made the sub-group when he saw the influence mental health had on people’s creative work. Members started sharing resources like the Depression Project’s infographic on preventing an anxiety attack, reminding others of support networks that are available, and providing links to advice articles like this one from Vice.
Rafanan said his sub-group works to “support and motivate others, both creatives and non-creatives, to continue in their dreams/goals in spite of the hardships we face in our lives.”
Another newly-established organization dedicated to APA women built caring for one’s mental health into its foundation. Founded by Cassandra Lam and Karen Mok, The Cosmos is a community for Asian women creators and entrepreneurs that began with the Medium post, "Who is the Asian-American Woman?’: An Open Letter to Our Community." That call-to-action developed into an online and offline network where most members connect through The Cosmos’s expansive Slack channel. This May, the #get-healthy chat includes conversations about the best gym in Portland, finding a woman of color therapist, and experiences with online Talkspace therapy.
“We see women talking about mental health without shame and fear,” Mok said. “That is the cultural change we will continue to fight for through The Cosmos.”
Mochi Magazine, ACN, and The Cosmos are hardly the only three organizations doing this work in both the APA and mental health advocacy spheres. Organizations such as National Alliance on Mental Illness and National Institute of Mental Health host mental health workshops and offer online resources. Other APA organizations for young adults like the East Coast Asian American Student Union share mental health education tools and resources and bring awareness to the community.
May is just one month to build a better understanding of APA history and fight mental health stigmas. These stories and lessons can lead to conversations that continue all year long.