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After Atlanta-area attacks, Asian communities reckon with mental health crises

Marissa Evans, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

They're also offering coaching group services on topics such as "How to find your voice as an Asian American" and "How to advocate for yourself and your community."

But Yoon says her Asian clients are struggling to process what happened in the Atlanta area and the violent attacks that have long occurred in their communities.

Often they've been told by older generations to ignore the racist attacks, work harder and "don't rock the boat," Yoon said. Now they're trying to find the words to explain the traumas of feeling culturally and emotionally invisible. Her female clients are feeling especially isolated.

"A lot of them were telling me that a lot of companies didn't acknowledge what happened," Yoon said of her clients. "They're feeling the tragedy but their companies, their own managers, are going like it's just a normal day and that was on St. Patrick's Day so people were celebrating ... they're really struggling, and they feel like they want to cry and it's like, 'OK, when I go to therapy, I can cry.'"

Kate Wadsworth, clinical director for the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants in Oakland, worried how the Atlanta-area shootings would trigger PTSD among her Southeast Asian clients. During the pandemic, the organization has held virtual sessions four times a week to talk about how people are coping with their grief and isolation, and the violence.

As the only white person on the center's staff, Wadsworth said she works with interpreters who are often refugees, immigrants or children of survivors. Clients can always work with someone of Asian descent or a refugee, but Wadsworth said interpreters serve to provide potential clients with "an unspoken 'OK, you can trust her.'"

Wadsworth said it's harder for members of the community to open up about their grief and trauma if they have to first explain the history of genocide in their country.

"It's really important to be humble and acknowledge there may be things I don't understand because I'm white," Wadsworth said. "Your job is not to teach me, but I'm here to learn about you and what works for you and your culture ... it's true cultural humility."

Kao Saechao, specialty mental health division director for Asian Health Services in Oakland, said the community health center offers mental health services through more than 30 mental health workers and in 14 Asian languages.

 

Patients coming in are often dealing with trauma, depression and anxiety. The center, which offers medical, mental health and dental care, serves about 50,000 people from low-income communities each year.

Since the Atlanta shooting, the center has seen an uptick in requests for mental health services.

"The stigma is still very present in our community. I think there's still a lot of work that could be done to improve that," Saechao said. "And also, somehow just normalizing mental health services and actually educating people on what that means and the benefits of mental health care."

Yoon's practice will soon have 12 therapists on staff and currently offers therapy services in Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.

But Yoon often thinks about the people they've had to turn away. While the practice tries to make referrals to therapists living closer to people making out-of-state inquiries, Yoon says they often have full client lists too.

Recently Yoon and her business partner went to Big Bear with their families to decompress and enjoy the snow. But they still found themselves responding to emails and tinkering with how they'll run the upcoming support groups.

"We just can't take time off right now," Yoon said. "I feel like we need to be there."

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