Ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme aims to re­verse men­tal health stigma

Central Leader - - NEWS - By JESS LEE

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.

Photo: JESS LEE

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.

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