Education programme aims to reverse mental health stigma
Chinese people experiencing mental illness are suffering in silence in fear of discrimination from their community.
Mental health issues are often seen as taboo or shameful in Chinese culture and are rarely spoken about, the Mental Health Foundation’s Charlie Tang says.
But some Aucklanders are speaking out with the help of education programme Kai Xin Xing Dong. It aims to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by people of Chinese descent who experience mental illness.
‘‘Some people still believe mental illness is caused by bad spirits or mistakes made by ancestors so are careful to keep their mental health issues private and not let their neighbours know,’’ Tang says.
‘‘The views are handed down from generation to generation.’’
Epsom engineer Jason Chow is one of those sharing his story to help others.
The 31-year-old says initially he found it hard to take the first steps towards seeking help.
‘‘Within the Asian community there are pretty bad perceptions about mental illness – they think you’re weak and you can’t take stress and tell you to ‘get over it’,’’ he says.
‘‘I had that perception that if I do talk to someone about it then that means I’m crazy – but when you sense something is wrong you really need to start seeking help straight away.’’
Chow moved from Hong Kong to New Zealand when he was 7 years old. He was 22 when he was first diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder.
He resigned from his job before realising he needed help.
High self-expectations, unrealistic goals and work stress were underlying factors, he says.
Chow believes the Chinese culture fosters a more stressful environment.
‘‘The heavy workloads and strong work-ethic mentality – just a perception that working more is better and, for me, that was a contributing factor to mental illness,’’ he says.
‘‘This is one of the major problems in our society because I know three people who have killed themselves because of depression or some mental illness.’’
Chow says he is fortunate his mum has been so supportive.
‘‘Some of the other people around me know about it, some have experienced it as well, but the majority of them will never know or understand because I think they will still have the perception of ‘get over it’.’’
Tang says it will take time for attitudes and behaviours to change.
Happy strumming: Inga Hope is passing on her guitar skills to children.
Speaking out: Jason Chow is hoping to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by Chinese people who experience mental illness with the help of public education programme Kai Xin Xing Dong.