North American East Asian Women & CBT

#sorrynotsorry about the long title, but it’s not even as long as the title of the study that I was a part of. Obviously I can’t discuss the intricacies of the study due to participant confidentiality, but I can discuss my feelings related to the topic of the study, which was the opinion of East Asian women (born in or the first generation in Canada under 25 y.o.) on mental health stigma in the [East Asian] community.

I know, I know, how did I even qualify since I’m basically white? I mean, they were only determining East Asianess on the squinty-ness of the eyes and I met that criteria, so I was allowed to participate.

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Oh, Asian eyes. (I mean, “almond shaped”? Is that our PC-term? Is “Asian eyes” not PC?)

Anyway, long story short, the title of the study describes half of it, so all I have left to mention was that it was comprised of two focus groups and a workshop. But mostly I’m going to write about my thoughts on mental health in North America/East Asian experiences; one based off experience, and the other, what I was reminded of by this study.

First, let me say that both of my parents, at this point, have/had spent more time in North America than they had outside of it, and while out of it, spent it under British rule in Hong Kong. There’s no wonder to why my siblings and I are basically white people (I don’t mean Canadian; I mean white; we go to the cottage and practise the stiff upper lip). But at the same time, we grew up being treated with traditional Chinese medicine (in addition to Western medicine) and attempts of being integrated into Chinese culture (more successful on my siblings than I), so we have some Asian influence on us.

Second, my parents are very non-traditional. Not only not traditional Chinese people, but not traditional…people. They are more open and forward-thinking than most people I know – including the university-educated (undergrad and masters) peers of mine – often listening and making decisions based on both their high emotional and intellectual IQs.

If you’ve been following this blog long enough, you won’t be surprised by the fact that when, a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with clinical major depression, no one in my family told me I was just stressed from studying too hard or that I simply needed to “take it easy.” At the time, I knew I was lucky that my parents had no problem with me needing to go on meds (I’m on 30mg of citalopram, FYI) or through therapy. I was reminded of this luck when going through the medical study last week and hearing girls discuss their experiences of how their parents told them that people with mental illness were crazy and to stay away from them. I am clearly living in a delusion of a homogeneous world because I hear the term “Crazy” applied to people with mental health issues as often as I hear the term “slut” applied to women comfortable with their sexuality (i.e. rarely, almost never).

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Yup, that’s a traditional Chinese girl right there.

I suppose it’s beneficial to get a reality check every now and then. Partially due to my personality and partially due to a filtered selection of people, but I don’t experience much stigma or discrimination anymore; people dare not say it to me, and/or the people that would are nowhere within my environment (Ahh, grad school in Montreal, I love you!).  But I have recently been reminded that the world is not so loving, even to its own children. People with anxiety are brushed off by their parents, or people with any mental illness who are taken into hospitals are something to be avoided. We should be afraid of people that talk to themselves out loud, and maybe we should avoid people with mental illness because obviously it’s as contagious as cancer. Can you hear the sarcasm in my text?

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How sick do I look? This was at one of my lowest moments of mental health this semester. F this type of illness.

(If I were Yvonne, I would be including hyperlinks to resources to educate you on mental illness, stigma, and resources to look into. Unfortunately, due to my current rose-coloured view of the world, I am pretending that you all know to not be afraid of those with mental illness and that if you suspected yourself or someone you cared about to be affected by it, you would be able to find something on the internet to address it. If you can’t, you can always e-mail me and the Information Professional in me will automatically help you find the appropriate resources.)

In summation from the focus groups, I was illuminated on the fact that my parents accepting my mental illness was apparently a factor of being white/North American, and if we had all been more traditional East Asian, they would have brushed me off and I would have continued to suffer while thinking I was weak for feeling bad. Obviously I could go into more detail on my thoughts and feelings about this, and even more obviously, I could not do it without being both honest AND not offensive.

But from the workshop, it was interesting because while we all reviewed it to not have effectively addressed stigma and how to combat it, it did bring up some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques and essentially how to address our own mental health. It turned out that most of the participants of the study really appreciated this; I was not too impressed by these techniques due to my experience due to age and personal mental health issues, but it was nice and cute to hear all the participants say they appreciated slowing down enough to pay attention to their bodies and thoughts.

The most popular technique was a self-awareness, pseudo meditation technique, wherein you sit comfortably and quietly and think about a flowing river. Eventually you begin to put thoughts on leaves (this exercise is called “leaves on a river”, so, y’know, duh) and let them float along the river and eventually, away. You’re supposed to let go of your thoughts. It’s likely that this works for you, but possibly not if your thoughts about your dead father and you’d prefer for those thoughts to get stuck on a protruding tree branch. Otherwise, it seems to do quite well for people.

Another technique was to identify a problem, identify its barriers [to solution], and then deflect all the barriers. The idea behind the technique is to acknowledge that barriers and bad thoughts exist, but to simply accept and move past them. As negative and detrimental as bad thoughts and barriers can be, your hope and perseverance should take you past them, i.e. believe in yourself and you can do it!!!!

My actual favourite CBT technique was from my own therapy sessions and that was essentially a “what’s the worst that can happen” worksheet. There were three columns on a worksheet so we worked through three of my biggest issues (FYI this was before my dad died), identified the worst case scenarios, and how I would deal with it. It turns out that when you actually think about the worst case, you’re stronger than you think and that your problems are rather solveable.

Not surprisingly, I have a lot to say on mental health, stigma, opinions of the East Asian community, how different (i.e. supportive) my family is, and CBT techniques, but I shouldn’t write it all in one post. If people can relate and/or want to hear more about those topics, I can write about it, but for now we’ll leave it at three CBT techniques that hopefully prevent you from going through a breakdown and making your mantra “nothing matters”. Mental health issues are horrible enough to deal with in the best case (which I may actually be in), and I was reminded of my privilege with this study. Life never fails to remind that as horrible as things are, it could always be worse.

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