We have to get past the deafening silence surrounding troubled minds
I was a pre-teen when I found out one of my friends had “slipped” and fallen off the terrace of his apartment building. I overheard the parents, speaking in hushed tones, that this boy had committed suicide. It was a lot to process, but I couldn’t talk to anyone. There was something off about the dynamics in this boy’s family. Most Asian moms are strict (some stereotypes are true). But my friend’s mom was a whole other level of tyranny. If he didn’t finish his veggies, I saw her rub the leftovers on his face. I witnessed her asking him to rinse his mouth with Surf, a washing detergent powder, if he answered her back. She always seemed so angry and wanting to lash out.
I don’t know what made my friend believe that taking his life was the only option left. I have no idea if something transpired in his family that day. But it hurt me when others referred to him as a “coward.” A dead boy can’t defend himself and people chose to write his end based on their biases. In the Asian culture, people don’t discuss mental health issues openly. Between applauding stoicism and considering mind-health conversations as taboo and stigma, a large majority doesn’t always get the help they need. It’s not just in the Asian countries, but the issue is pervasive within the Asian American communities in the US as well. On one hand, Asian Americans are highly educated and one of the wealthiest communities; on the other hand, they are least likely to access any mental health support.
I have heard folks brag about their list of diseases, below the neck. But you are met with silence when it comes to mental wellness issues. For those who take the initiative, they might find a disconnect with Caucasian therapists who can’t identify with the cultural nuances, intersectional identities, family demands, and other complexities. If you feel unseen, misunderstood, or invalidated in therapy, it makes seeking help more difficult.
That’s why I was so excited to learn from my classmate Diana Liao (we studied at Columbia University together), who is a therapist, about Bridges Mental Health that she and two other mental health practitioners, Samantha Waldman, and Christie Kim, started together. The three had their first meeting in October 2019 at Ole & Steen. “We shared our visions for the project, and immediately decided to join forces. It felt like a fortuitous alignment of skills, with Christie patiently and skillfully building out the site; Samantha ideating, writing, and editing our content; and me building our therapist network and spreading the word about our project,” said Diana.
Bridges Mental Health (www.bridgesmentalhealth.com) is a hub for all things related to Asian mental health. They have a therapist directory for therapy seekers in the NYC-area, a Google group for local clinicians (with over 230 therapists) where the therapists exchange referrals, share resources, build community, and discuss therapy and mental health as it relates to Asian identity. When I asked Diana, Christie, and Samantha what inspired each of them to become a part of Bridges Mental health, there was a common running theme: lack of representation.
“The first time I went to therapy I had a very invalidating experience with a White provider who fundamentally misunderstood how my Asian identity impacted me,” said Samantha Waldman, LMHC. “When I became a therapist myself, I often heard stories from Asian clients who also had similar experiences with mental health providers. People typically seek out therapy to feel understood and seen, and I felt that this was a major issue that was impacting me and my community.”
Christie Kim, LMHC said, “Initially Bridges was born out of the desire to make it easier for APISA clients to find therapists who could see them more fully, but the experience of building community with Sam and Diana has deepened my own identity work as well. It is both grounding and inspiring to feel more connected to the Asian diaspora, and to be part of a larger wave of community healing.”
Diana said, “Research has shown that Asian Americans are three times less likely than their white counterparts to seek therapy. To compound the issue, when Asian Americans do seek therapy, they often report feeling invalidated by therapists that are unable to relate to their experiences. As I began to see clients in a majority white private practice, I became acutely aware of the lack of representation–confirmed also by Asian clients that commented on how difficult it was to find me, a therapist of Asian descent. After a Google search confirmed that no such therapist directory existed, I began to consider creating one, both to normalize mental health and to increase access to culturally responsive therapists for the Asian American community.”
How Bridges Mental Health has helped the Asian American Community
1) They’ve developed a client-facing therapist directory (60+ therapists) for the Asian Pacific Islander South Asian American community in the NYC area, which makes it easier to find culturally sensitive care.
2) They launched a podcast called “Beyond the Couch with Bridges,” where the team explores the intersection of APISA identity and mental health by demystifying therapy and highlighting stories from the community. Each week, they unpack topics from burnout and boundaries to perfectionism and collective care with fellow therapists, experts, and community members.
3) They have an Instagram page, @bridgesmentalhealth, where they explore mental health topics as they relate to the APISA community.
4) They’ve created a community of more than 240 therapists that specialize in working with the Asian community in the NYC-area. Through this clinicians’ Google group, they have helped therapists facilitate referrals to right-fit clients as well as communicate information about resources and clinical training. They’ve also hosted several therapist meet-ups. The reaction has been overwhelming, given the desire for therapists to connect with each other, especially given the events of the past three years.
Taking care of our mental well-being is incumbent on each one of us. If you are in need of help and need access to other spaces (in addition to Bridges Mental health), here is a list of other resources.
“Your mental health is everything – prioritize it. Make the time like your life depends on it, because it does.” ~ Mel Robbins