By Catherine Han, Virginia Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos by various sources
Happy May! In May, we celebrate not only Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, we also honor that this month is Mental Health Awareness Month. This month “provides a timely reminder that mental health is essential and that those living with mental health issues are deserving of care, understanding, compassion, and pathways to hope, healing, recovery, and fulfillment. After all, that is what we all want and need now more than ever– for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our communities, and for our world” (Fenway Health, 2020).
Mental health does not discriminate, and it is so crucial for us to keep having these conversations in order to break the current and high stigma that is present especially within the AAPI communities. Literature has shown that young Asian Americans typically avoid mental health services because opting to utilize such services requires an admittance of a mental health problem to one’s self and family, which Asian Americans studied felt would bring further potential shame to the family if those problems become public (Augsberger et al., 2015; Chu & Sue, 2011).
In addition to the stigma that is present, there are barriers that exist. For instance, one barrier to seeking help that often emerges is the mismatch between cultural needs of Asian Americans and available services (Augsberger et al., 2015; Jang et al., 2019; Nguyen & Bornheimer, 2014). We must be able to ensure that the services and programs that we are providing to our community members and youth are practicing cultural humility and sensitivity. This goes for all, but especially for second generation child and adolescent immigrants which have been found to have unique and pervasive mental health issues when compared to their native and other generational counterparts (Ceri et. al, 2017; Han & Pong, 2015).
With Asian hate, anti-Asian sentiment, hate crimes, and blaming Asians for COVID-19 has been spotlighted during this time. As a community, it is so imperative that we provide care and grace to each other during these trying times. Our bodies hold onto the stress and trauma, and I invite you all to do a body scan for yourself when you need it. Instructions can be found below, and it takes just a few minutes:
For our staff members here at AALEAD, we value mental health, and in fact, incorporate this into workshops with our youth during programs. When asked about what mental health means to them, here’s what some of our coordinators had to say:
“To me, mental health is the ability to feel, accept, and process our emotions both positive and negative and be able to live our everyday lives without any impairments or impediments. Further, mental health is having a healthy and positive self-concept, self-esteem, and balanced ego. There are many factors that can contribute to and impact one’s mental health, including both mental and physical stimuli.”– Diana, DC Middle School Program Coordinator
“It means staying connected with my friends, being self-aware of my needs, stepping away from the screen, being okay if I don’t finish all my tasks in a day, and so much more. It’s important for me to take care of myself by finding time to decompress and find that balance between work and rest. Overall, being able to tune into myself to check in with how I feel is a key element in maintaining my mental health.”– Catherine, VA Middle School Program Coordinator
Now, for many of us, we understand the importance of mental health, and the hardest part is often practicing and prioritizing our wellness and self-care routine. Self-care doesn’t have to be big like going to get a massage, getting nails done, or traveling. It can be as simple as choosing to sleep in for another hour, or sitting outside on your porch to get some sunshine. Here is what some of our coordinators will be doing to prioritize their mental health & well-being this month and/or this year, as well as what they enjoy doing for self-care:
“I will prioritize myself and my mental health & well-being by calling my friends and checking in to maintain that connection, letting myself look forward to big and small events, and going on walks! I’m also working on enacting stronger boundaries to have a better balance overall.” – Catherine, VA Middle School Program Coordinator
“I am hoping to continue working on my healing journey by rewiring my subconscious and making a habit of seeing myself in a more positive light. To do so, I want to create more intentional time for self-love and self-forgiveness. I will let go of expectations and comparisons and replace them with acceptance, compassion, and empowerment. As for self-care, I spend time with friends/family! Read! Journal! Eat good food! Walks by the waterfront! Travel! FaceTime dates/Phone calls! Create videos!” – Diana, DC Middle School Program Coordinator
I hope by sharing just what some of our coordinators do for self-care may provide a few ideas for you to practice, but ultimately, for you to start thinking about what feels right and good for you and your overall well-being. Even after May/Mental Health Awareness Month is over, that does not mean that we do not recognize our mental health. It is a daily practice for us to honor our full selves. Life will be filled with ups, downs, and neutral times. There may be more or less of others, but my dream is for everyone to live out their authentic self, and know they will be fully accepted and loved for who they are. I wish you all a beautiful journey and month as you continue to prioritize yourself. It is always okay to say no, recharge, and then say yes when and if you are ready!
More AAPI/Mental Health Resources