Mental Health is Always on Our Minds

By: Ari Pak, Programs Co-Director

Photos courtesy of AALEAD staff

Did you know that 1 in 5 youth ages 13-18 has a serious mental illness (National Alliance for Mental Illness)? According to the Asian American Health Initiative, Asian Americans are 75% less likely to seek mental health services than white Americans, and 50% less likely to seek mental health services than African Americans and Latinx Americans.

With these facts in mind, we at AALEAD are aware that Asian Pacific American youth are always dealing with their mental health. Whether we are talking about it or not, mental health problems and illness are very real parts of every day for young people. Our charge as a youth-serving organization becomes how we engage the topic of mental health to best support and prepare AALEAD youth with mental wellness tools and resources. At AALEAD, we understand that maintaining positive mental health is an ongoing process. Much like we manage our physical wellness with regular check-ups, mental wellness requires both knowledge and action.

AALEAD addresses mental wellness through targeted programming. Youth engage in mental health workshops to discuss stressors and stress management tools, learn facts about mental wellness and illness, and get connected to mental wellness resources in their community. For the third year in a row, AALEAD Maryland Afterschool Programs hosted staff from the Asian American Health Initiative (AAHI), a division of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, to lead mental health workshops for Maryland AALEAD youth.

AAHI’s photonovel “Growing Together”, courtesy of AAHI website

Utilizing their Mental Health Photonovel “Growing Together,” AAHI staff led discussions on how mental health can be affected by family acculturation gap. The photonovel explains that “acculturation gap is when children of immigrant parents adapt to the new culture faster and in a different way than the parents” which can lead to “tension, stress, and conflict” between family members. Youth read through the story together to process how the main character, Daniel, experienced the acculturation gap between himself and his parents and how this adds stressors to his life. Youth discussed how they related to Daniel’s experiences and how they cope with similar challenges. Many youth also took copies of the photonovels to share with their families at home.

AALEAD youth answered prompted question from AAHI staff:
“What comes our mind when you think of mental health?”

The above partnership exemplifies one way that AALEAD addresses mental wellness in multiple ways. Through structured program activities, youth are provided a space to process and discuss mental health as it relates to their own lives. Having a safe space to have honest conversations allows youth to have a community who understand and listen to what they’re going through. The fact that AALEAD actively engages in conversation around mental health also allows youth to see AALEAD staff as an avenue of support when they are experiencing mental health challenges. Additionally, youth generate knowledge and learn about mental health in ways which they can apply to their own lives. Youth learn about mental health facts, coping strategies, community resources for their own use as well as to share with their family members. Equipping youth with the resources ensures they have tools to support their own mental wellness as well as resources which can foster conversations with parents and community members.

We appreciate our ongoing partnership with the Asian American Health Initiative to provide AALEAD youth with relevant mental health resources and community engagement opportunities. You can see all four Asian American Health Initiative’s Mental Health Photonovels at the link here. Photonovels are translated into English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Hindi.

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