Mental health has always been a taboo subject in the Asian American community. Older generations may see mental health issues as something “crazy” or abnormal, and dismiss it as the fault of the individual or a lack of willpower. For teens that were brought up with these beliefs, it can be challenging to seek emotional support from their family members. Many teens also experience issues such as cyber-bullying that older generations never encountered. Under these circumstances, Asian American youth can struggle to find the right support.
To better understand how the community perceives mental health and the kinds of resources that are available, we invited two teen health educators from the Teen Resource Center, Tammy Cheng and Anna Wu, and one teen participant to sit down and talk with us.
How do you think mental health is portrayed in the Asian American community?
Tammy: There are many taboos regarding mental health issues and seeking help isn’t an option. People in the community may label it as “crazy.” When a teen is stressed and isn’t comfortable seeking help, [they] may resort to keeping it inside, but it is never the best choice. Older generations may not understand the concept of depression. This [lack of communication] creates a cultural barrier … youth nowadays are more open and willing to talk about their mental health.
What are some cases that you dealt with regarding mental health?
Anna: I remember one case. A teen came in looking to get some help from a professional about her mental health, but her mother refused to let her get help from people outside of the family circle. Her mother didn’t think that it was necessary and didn’t think that there was anything wrong with her daughter. Luckily, she got help from a professional at last.
What resources can Asian Americans access?
Anna: There is a burgeoning demand for mental health care in which the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center (CBWCHC) has recently expanded their health services to accommodate more patients. We work closely with local organizations to provide alternative resources to the community beyond the health aspect of what CBWCHC delivers. For example, APEX for Youth and Big Brothers Big Sister of New York City are both local organizations that we work closely together with to provide youths the opportunity to be peer mentors or tutors. We also work closely with Chinese-American Planning Council with youth-related services, programs, and events.
Tammy: [In addition to] trying to finish school, getting citizenship, supporting kids, finding a job, and creating a stable living situation like my parents and many immigrants are struggling with now, there is literally no time to [be active and] seek out resources to help deal with all the stress. The need for resources is very real, but the expectations to be able to have time, money, or energy for these services is often unreal.
Teen: As a second-generation Asian American student, my school provides a decent amount of resources for mental health issues. My school, in particular, offers stress-relief workshops and provides talk sessions. I think it is because I attend a very stressful school and the necessity to provide resources is greater for students these days.
Talking to a friend, a counselor, or someone you trust may be intimidating at first, but it’s the first step to getting the help you need. The Teen Resource Center (TRC) at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center offers peer-to-peer and professional support referral services for adolescents seeking help. Visit their two convenient sites located in Manhattan at 125 Walker Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10013 or in Flushing at 136-26 37th Avenue, 4th Floor, NY, 11354. To learn more, please call (212) 226-2044.
Written by Tiffany Wu
Tiffany Wu is a Community Service Learning Program intern at the Teen Resource Center. She is a rising junior at Brooklyn Technical High School.