On Thursday evening, Yale’s Asian American Cultural Center hosted its “Thoughtful Thursdays Kick-Off Panel” — the first in a series of discussions on how mental health and wellness intersect with Asian identity.
The event, which ran from 6 to 7 p.m., began with a panel discussion featuring Asian-identified students and mental health professionals. It ended with break-out sessions during which each panelist addressed the event’s major themes with a smaller group of attendees. While the event touched upon a number of mental health issues pertinent to the Asian and Asian-American communities at Yale, the panelists placed particular emphasis on holistic wellness as well as the importance of self-care and community support.
“Holistic mental health and wellness, to me, means at the minimum living beyond a day-to-day survival mode,” said Lining Wang ’17, one of the panelists and a member of the Asian-American Students Alliance. “It means being intentional about self-care in our daily routines … and it means self-advocacy, particularly in the therapy context.”
Wang added that both at Yale and within the Asian and Asian-American communities, there is a need to destigmatize conversations surrounding mental health issues and recognize that “being vulnerable, sharing stories and seeking help” is brave and not shameful.
The panelists spoke about how a lack of conversation regarding wellness needs in the Asian and Asian-American communities makes it difficult for those confronting mental health illnesses to reach out to their peers for support.
Jennifer Fang, a panelist and Yale School of Medicine associate research scientist, spoke to the ability of a supportive social network to augment traditional forms of therapy provided by mental health professionals. She added that a support system derived from members of the community reassures people struggling with mental health problems that they do not have an “adversarial relationship with [their] environment.”
The panel discussion also addressed problems arising from the “model minority’ stereotype frequently attached to the Asian community. Wang said that this stereotype, which associates members of the community with a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average, accelerates the development of various mental health issues in the Asian and Asian-American communities. Wang added that this stereotype weakens the family support structure, especially in families where the parents are first-generation immigrants who often expect their children to thrive within this “socially accepted” framework.
Anand Sukumaran, a panelist and psychiatrist at Yale Mental Health and Counseling, echoed Wang’s sentiment. He stated that there exists some tension between the idea of self-care and “obligations felt from a cultural or familial perspective.”
In addition to discussing how both the individual and the wider community deal with mental health issues, the panelists talked about the importance of institutional engagement.
Wang pointed out some specific improvements Yale Mental Health and Counseling could make to support holistic mental wellness, including increasing the number of trained therapists and psychiatrists — in particular, people of color who are trained in recognizing how race intersects with mental health issues. Audrey Luo ’17, a panelist and co-president of Mind Matters, said that the withdrawal policy enforced by Yale Mental Health and Counseling makes people wary of approaching their deans to discuss their mental health needs. She added that because people worry that speaking to their residential college dean will result in them being sent home, they often keep their mental health issues to themselves.
Thursday’s event marks the start of a yearlong series aimed at addressing the unique wellness issues faced by the Asian and Asian-American communities, according to Justine Xu ’19, an AACC staffer involved in organizing the event. During the break-out sessions, the panelists handed out surveys to the attendees which featured a checklist of various potential topics for future events. Xu, who spoke to the News prior to the event, said the panel would be an important means of gauging the specific areas of mental health that Asian-identified students at Yale are interested in. She added that the AACC will use feedback from the first panel discussion to shape future events, which could range from workshops to activities such as study breaks.
According to Xu, the AACC hopes to be “as intersectional as possible” in its selection of themes for the discussion series. She said that the series will take into account how issues of gender, sexual identity and class, among other factors, intersect with mental health wellness in the Asian and Asian-American communities.
George Huynh ’18, an attendee and co-resident of the Vietnamese Students Association at Yale, expressed his enthusiasm for the event.
“I think it was a rather low-stress, warm and welcoming event to get the conversation around Asian-American experiences with mental health started,” Huynh said. “But in many ways just having an hourlong event is only the beginning. We’ve identified a lot of problems, but it’s going to take a lot more time and many more events like this to identify solutions and work toward improving mental health and wellness in the community.”
The Asian American Cultural Center is located at 295 Crown St.