Written by Qian Meizhen
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Patrick McShane
According to the California Health Care Almanac, 1 in 24 California residents have been diagnosed with a serious mental health condition that impacts their daily life. To help community residents maintain their physical and mental well-being, Tzu Chi USA collaborated with the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA) and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) to host the Resilience in Action Summit on June 10th in Alhambra, California. The summit invited over ten scholars and experts specializing in mental health issues to serve as keynote speakers. They addressed the significance of cognitive well-being to more than 100 attendees and discussed how to effectively utilize government and public resources to assist family, friends, and neighbors in improving their personal well-being, thereby reducing the impact of psychological and mental health issues within communities.
A Silent Epidemic
Due to the influence of some ideals and social traditions, Asian American families often tend to avoid discussing mental health with family and friends. However, recently arrived immigrants who have left their homes to seek a new life in an unfamiliar country face a multitude of overlapping factors, such as cultural shock, sudden social status changes, and economic pressure. As a result, they are often one of the most vulnerable groups in need of psychological counseling and spiritual guidance.
The three years of the pandemic, followed by the pressures of inflation after the lifting of restrictions, a significant shooting incident in the Southern California Chinese community during the Lunar New Year holiday, and ongoing hate crimes against Asian Americans across the United States, have added to the emotional burden of many Asian American community members.
During the conference, Tzu Chi USA CEO Debra Boudreaux shared that, “As a result, Tzu Chi quickly gained government support, and the first step was to collaborate in organizing this seminar within the Asian American community. Afterward, Tzu Chi will participate in projects led by Monterey Park and work together with the Chinatown Service Center and Christian Herald Community Center to launch a series of activities aimed at helping residents improve their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.”
After opening remarks by Tzu Chi USA CEO Debra Boudreaux, Walnut City Councilmember Eric Ching, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis’ representative Esther Lim, and Dr. Michelle Majors, Director of San Gabriel Valley Health Center in the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, the “Resilience in Action Summit” commenced.
The keynote speaker for the event was Congressperson Judy Chu, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and represents the local congressional district. In her presentation titled “Anti-Asian Hate from a Federal Perspective,” Congressperson Chu discussed the increasing cases of anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. She highlighted the preventive measures taken by federal and local governments and how the government actively promotes community education and outreach to help the community navigate current challenges. “As the only professional psychologist in the U.S. Congress, I fully understand that Asian American residents need more resources and services to cope with the stress and emotions arising from the pandemic and hate crimes,” stated Congressperson Chu.
Let the Heart Feel Inner Peace
In the morning’s two parallel sessions, one venue was led by Dr. Derek Hsieh LCSW, Ph.D., the Director of the Asian Pacific Family Center at the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, who spoke on the topic of “Happiness and Well-being,” which discussed ways to adjust one’s body and mind to experience happiness in life. The other venue was hosted by Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard, Assistant Director of Public and Community Engagement at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California, along with Dr. Nalika Gajaweera, a human researcher at the same center, and social justice advocate for Asma Men. They discussed “Cultivating Spiritual Resilience and Community Positivity,” delving into the impact of religious and spiritual practices on individual well-being and social stability.
Dr. Derek Hsieh emphasized, “In California, the suicide rate among Asian American women aged 65 and older is significantly higher than other ethnic groups, and among student and youth groups, Asian American suicide rates are also relatively high. This is a clear warning that we must address the mental health issues among the Asian American community promptly.” He added, “When facing mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, Asian American residents can not only make use of the psychological counseling services provided by government and community organizations but also enhance their happiness through various methods in daily life.”
One of the afternoon breakout sessions featured an art therapy project aiming to create a space to cope with psychological stress. It was presented by the founders of the non-profit organization iMatter, Kimberly Chang and Jaedyn Tsang, along with the founders of Madhatter Knits, Christie Huang and Kathryn Huang, as well as performance art therapy expert Kevin Zhang and clinical psychologist Joyce Yip Green.
Another session focused on the theme of “Sadness, Feeling Lost, and Resilience.” It was presented by Guadalupe Isabel Ramirez, a mental health advocate from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.
“Improving mental health requires collaboration between organizations and the collective efforts of all residents,” affirmed Congressperson Judy Chu. And indeed, with compassion as its guide, Tzu Chi USA is committed to improving community wellness alongside partners and experts alike.