After deadly shooting, mental health becomes a concern for AAPI community

After the shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, many Asian Americans are questioning the state of mental health in their community.

According to Jenny Wang, PhD, a therapist and author of “Permission to Come Home: Reclaiming Mental Health as Asian Americans,” therapy can help with anger management, conflict resolution and negotiation skills. “Does therapy stop all violence? Probably not,” she said. But therapy provides skills and support that can ease it.

Wang said violence occurs when people cannot control their inner emotions. She said many AAPI immigrants become emotionally unavailable and repress some feelings to adapt to the challenges they face in their new lives.

“This value of emotional conservatism—the idea that when we are in emotional turmoil or upset, we try as much as we can to block out emotional distortion—they see it as a strength,” says Wang. he said.

rooted in the past

Before navigating home life in the United States, AAPI immigrants often had difficult lives in their homelands filled with war and poverty. And, according to Wang, accepting the bitterness brought on by those experiences becomes a value.

Many Chinese fled famine and political repression. The Vietnamese and Koreans suffered years of war. Filipinos escaped dictatorship. Cambodians fled the genocide. Many Japanese had a hardened upper lip when they or their ancestors were incarcerated in concentration camps. In all of these cases, Wang said, Asian immigrants are beset by colonialism, poverty, war or inter-generational trauma.

But the appearance of stereotypes belies the actual reality.

“It’s really a protective mechanism,” says Esther Lee, a physician in the San Fernando Valley. “It’s kept them safe for so long”.

Lee said the defense mechanism is indicative of a lack of coping and communication skills. This leads to pent-up resentment, anger and frustration that boils just below the surface.

“Asian elders display conservatism when faced with internal turmoil, but if not managed,” says Wang, “this sometimes has really harmful consequences.”

community and burden

Lee said that the defense mechanism is also rooted in the collectivist approach of Asian cultures. Since a person’s worth and identity is derived from the community and their families, elders have a tendency to undermine their own mental well-being in favor of the well-being of others.

However, as they age, they sometimes cannot give to the community as they once did. Without being able to give to the community, AAPI elders may feel that their value is limited. So that they don’t become a burden, they isolated themselves.

“They’re a very vulnerable population, they’re often really isolated and alone. They don’t all have family checking up on them,” said Sharon Kwon, a therapist in Los Angeles who worked in Koreatown. Worked with the elderly community.

Kwon said the problem is exacerbated by shame, as well as the idea among many in the community that therapy is only for “crazy people”. And machismo may be another playing factor.

“I also think that Asian American cultures are inherently very patriarchal and collectivist, which often creates the perfect recipe for domestic violence in the home,” Kwan said.

hope in the present and future

According to Wang, the younger generation can stop the cycle of closed-in feelings, loneliness and despair.

“I firmly believe that when the younger generation – people in their 20s, 30s and 40s – really pursue mental health and wellness, it is probably a catalyst for the older generation. [seeking for help]”, says Wang.

For her, therapy is more than just speaking about feelings: It’s about arming our loved ones with the tools to navigate our homes, workplaces, and all the places in between. It is important to share your own experiences with therapy.

simple start

To introduce elders to therapy, Wang suggests telling them how you went to a therapist for a problem, such as with work or school. Then list the ways a therapist has helped.

“One thing that worries Asian elders is that you sit there and talk about your problems, but nothing changes,” Wang said.

But Wang said it is not just a show. “It’s really about developing a plan to change things in our lives for the better, or about learning a skill, like communication, or learning how to negotiate.”

Kwon said therapists can help elders process difficult feelings like loneliness, guilt and feeling like a burden. “We can also connect them to case management services that really help with more of your day-to-day stuff,” Kwon says.

Kwon belongs to the “Yellow Chair Collective” – a group of Asian American physicians. According to their website, Asian American therapists can help elders by learning about the nuances of a culture and by being open-minded and curious about their perspective.

Asian American physicians bear an obligation to be sensitive to cultural barriers, says April Tith, a physician in Long Beach. “Cultural politeness is inculcated in their behaviour. “Can search for therapists who prioritize cultural sensitivity and inclusion [finding a therapist] more successful and reliable,” Tith said.

Kwon noted that occupational therapy is not always accessible, nor is it always right for every individual. In those cases, she suggested churches and temples as great options because they provide community and support. “The church and the clergy were the original healers,” said Kwon.

“What I love about therapy is that it helps create a sense of personal liberation,” Lee said. “Collective liberation can happen only when there is individual liberation and peace.”

additional resources

All veterans are eligible for medical care, and can access the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health website. There, they can find mental health providers in their local community.

The Yellow Chair Collective is another resource with Asian therapists who are culturally sensitive, and they run a non-profit called ENTWINE that provides low-cost mental health services and case management.

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