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Support networks making headway for Asian Australian mental health

Photo by Andrew Le on Unsplash

In the wake of the devastating attacks in Atlanta in March, where six Asian women were killed and leaving a resounding impact worldwide, the necessity for mental health support for the Asian-Australian community is at a crucial point.

In a 2020 survey where 3,000 people took part, 84.5 per cent of Asian-Australians reported one or more instances of discrimination, an increase from 82 per cent in 2019.

According to Professor of Psychiatry at Melbourne University, Chee Ng, Asian discrimination, including the unwarranted prejudice demonstrated during COVID-19, adversely affects one’s mental health, sense of safety and self-esteem, leading to anxiety, sleep disturbances, posttraumatic stress and depression.

Asian-Australian Organisational Psychology (AAOP) is a not-for-profit comprised of diverse Asian-Australian psychologists with the mission to elevate and utilise their lived experience and expertise to help Asian-Australians excel personally and professionally.

AAOP has successfully supported Resilience Against Racism, a project aimed at building resilience among Asian-Australian professionals and international students as a means to cope with racism.

Chair of AAOP, Christine Yeung, said: “We have seen an increased demand in support for Asian-Australians who have been emotionally impacted by the Atlanta shooting event. The horrible incident has triggered many unpleasant feelings and memories in the Asian-Australian community, particularly for women.”

“From an AAOP perspective, we see a gap in using evidence-based approaches in psychology to understand the issue as well as to support Asian-Australians. This is why we exist, to fill this gap,” she said.

Clinical research has shown that the most effective psychological outcomes for mental health patients occurs when practitioners actively attend to their ethnic background.

“To make social change requires an understanding of the root cause of an issue – people. Our systems are made up of humans and given contexts, this is about shifting a collective mindset and behaviour to make positive impact”

Christine Yeung

Asami Koike started Shapes and Sounds in 2019, an online platform which facilitates Asian-Australian mental health and wellbeing. She achieves this through extensive blog posts, listing Asian-Australian psychologists and other mental health practitioners and harnesses the value of social connection.

After working in the youth community sector, she realised the huge extent to which ethnically diverse people are falling through the cracks.

“Asian-Australians are suffering,” she said.

At the peak of her concern is that Asian-Australians are too often subjected to the Model Minority Myth, herself included.

“We’re generally known as being quiet, hard-working, submissive – we keep our heads down, don’t make a fuss, you can treat us like anything and we’ll probably get the job done anyway,” Ms Koike said.

Consequently, Asian-Australians are less likely to seek mental health support and if they do, there is a likelihood to disengage.

Ms Koike believes that a vital element of mental health support for Asian-Australians is trauma-informed practice, because a lot of people’s mental health presents as being imbedded in racialised trauma from growing up and living in Australia.

Asian-Australians make up 12.25 per cent of the country’s population, though this does not equate in terms of support services, executive leadership and media representation.

“We’re kind of underrepresented, everywhere… and I think that’s contributing to different problems we’re seeing,” Ms Koike said.

During COVID-19 and after the killings in the US, Shapes and Sound’s mental health practitioner list has been their most highly accessed resource. “So much so that clinicians had to actively hire other Asian Australian practioners to meet the demand,” Ms Koike said.

When Tiana and Thuy started noticing the lack of Asian-Australian voices in the podcast realm and the media, they decided to fill that gap. Their podcast ‘Unapologetically Asian’, which began as a passion project, grew into something much more than they anticipated.

“It was a space where we could really reflect what people in our community were craving… people would write in and say ‘Your experiences and stories really resonate with mine’,” Tiana said.

As well as its focus on being a twenty-something – relationships, family, pop culture, the podcast reconciles with the identity crisis which many people from immigrant families face – a unique diaspora experience.

“Some people have experiences where they feel like they are too Asian, some feel like they are too Australian – ‘white washed’ is a term that’s used a lot, but I think what’s helped is to hear other people’s stories, and understand that it’s normal”

Tiana

The anti-Asian sentiment present during COVID-19, is something that Tiana felt had been boiling to the surface.

“We have access to the tools to protect ourselves, but it’s our family members and friends who might not have English as their first language that we’re worried about on the street.”

Born out of the devastating impact of the Atlanta attacks, has not only been support for the Asian community, but the willingness of people to educate themselves. “It’s about never stopping the conversation… for Thuy and I it’s driven us to push the podcast even further,” Tiana said.

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Lara Shearer

Lara graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Arts (Hon.), with majors in journalism and human rights and went on to complete an Honours year in Journalism. Lara was a contributing writer to Esperanto Magazine during her Honours and has done freelance writing. Lara has a passion for storytelling and moving people, with an avid interest in documentary filmmaking and podcasting. Lara was drawn to The Advocate because she doesn't want a cog in the machine role, she wants to be part of something special and thus have a positive impact.

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