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More Asian Canadians seek counselling amid pandemic, racism

Last Updated Apr 8, 2021 at 8:25 am PDT

Summary

Counsellors in B.C. are seeing a spike in people of Asian descent setting up appointments

The spike follows anti-Asian hate incidents over the past year

A Chinese-Canadian woman is urging others to share their stories if they are struggling with their mental health

BURNABY (NEWS 1130) — It was three months ago when Rhiannon Yee realized she needed help. 

Yee, a Chinese-Canadian woman living in Burnaby, says she struggled to deal with the injustices she would hear about in her circle. 

“That was really hard because there’s such a … stigma toward mental health in the Asian community — where we just don’t talk about it at all. We don’t talk about it enough. We just remain silent on the topic, which is really heartbreaking,” she tells NEWS 1130. 

Yee said it took a lot of bravery to loop her mother, father and brother in, and there was a bit of a mixed reaction. 

“For my mom, she didn’t really understand what was going on. She thought that I was – well, this sounds bad, but, just like Asian culture is like, ‘you must … have something wrong with you,’ when it’s actually completely normal to have a mental health crisis, especially with everything that’s happening in the world right now,” she notes. 

Earlier this year, the Vancouver Police Department released its statistics for hate-related incidents for 2020 and noted a whopping 717 per cent increase versus the year prior. Investigators have said the majority of the victims are of Asian descent. 

The statistics transcend our border, with some people talking about how difficult it’s been in light of the fatal shootings in Atlanta, Georgia. Six women of Asian descent were killed. When Yee spoke further about her struggles, she says she was able to find strength.

“My mom wasn’t understanding at the beginning of what was going on because she’s been very strong in her life — even though she’s battled a lot of personal struggles. She’s been a rock. She’s always been the really strong one. 

“Same with my dad, but my dad immigrated here when he was about nine-years-old, so he’s a bit more, like, ‘western.’ He’s got a little bit of both, but my mom immigrated when she was in her early 20s. She’s got that kind of stigma towards it,” she notes. 

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Regardless, everyone was supportive – and Yee says that support extended to her circle of friends, too. 

“The biggest thing is my friends or former colleagues reaching out and asking, ‘are you okay?’ Just anyone that’s in my life, besides my family, of course, because we’re around each other all the time. But just people from outside of the community [too], the allies, seeing actual solidarity and allyship is just the biggest help honestly. 

“When we’re trying to speak up against injustice to the Asian community, and it seems like no one is listening, obviously us as Asians, we recognize and see the racism that we face, every single day. When others actually see it as well, that’s huge.”

‘A tenfold increase’

All three counsellors NEWS 1130 spoke with say they’ve seen some kind of uptick in the number of people of Asian descent who are reaching out for help. 

Linda Lin is a registered clinical counsellor and art therapist and says she’s been busy.

“…if you want numbers, like a ten-fold increase in my caseload, just on talking about racial trauma, racial identity, and everything that’s been happening in our world today.

“I’m on a waitlist and it’s ever-growing right now, and most of them are people of colour; clients who are seeking out and reaching out this year in particular, and coming to my practice for talking about racial identity, what’s been happening in their intimate circles, and just what’s happening in the world,” she explains to NEWS 1130. 

Nina Lim is based in Langley, and she echoes Lin’s sentiment. 

“I think, even if I look back between this year and last year, just anecdotally on my end, I’ve seen a huge increase, whereas before Asian Canadians made up a very small portion of my caseload. In the last two weeks, it’s been the vast majority of my caseload, or my new clients,” she says. 

Lim says that she’s starting to see a change in people reaching out, noting that there is still a bit of a stigma among older generations, but people who are in the Generation Z and Millennial age range are more likely to seek help. 

Even if seeking help through a counsellor doesn’t work, Lim says it’s okay to use spaces that might bridge the gap. 

“When it’s not with a professional, sometimes it can feel a little bit easier, and if that doesn’t work, right now, the Asian community is really coming together and there’s lots of Facebook groups and things like there where people are sharing their stories. So even if that can be a point of connection to start to identify, ‘oh, okay, maybe some of the stuff that’s happening for me is similar. Maybe this is okay; maybe I can start talking about this,’ just even these small progressions of a step are huge steps,” Lim explains. 

Mia Anthony of Mia Anthony Counselling and Workshops in Richmond agrees.

“Finding the right counsellor is not easy. I like to say it’s like finding the right shoe. You might know your size and your style, but not everything is going to fit, and that’s okay. Just find the right one for you,” she says. 

However, it’s also important that victims don’t hold the weight. Anthony says people who might be asking themselves if they need to check their own attitudes and perspectives should have some very honest conversations. 

“One of the things that comes up for me when I think about this is almost along the lines of putting the responsibility on the victim. Why are we doing that? I almost want to reach out to people who are of Caucasian descent and say, ‘hey! Also, look at yourself and come to terms that you most likely are a racist. And let’s talk about that. Let’s have that out there.’ So the change is not coming necessarily from the victim, but from the oppressor, the abuser, if you will,” she explains. 

Lin says it’s also imperative people who may serve as support aren’t forceful and take the time to listen – and only if those struggling give their okay. 

“We just need to tap into people’s experiences, and sometimes we are not all on the same page, yet. So I would say that we need to ask the question, something like, ‘who can say this and with what authority?’ Whether it’s with the people we are talking to, when we’re sharing our experiences, do they even want their story to be shared? Sometimes we forget to even ask that question. But there are so many nuances,” she notes. 

In Yee’s own personal experience, she doesn’t regret reaching out for help. 

“I think we need to just be kind to ourselves, to others, be gentler. Everyone has a story. You don’t know what they’re going through. Please reach out to your loved ones — anyone that’s having a hard time. Just know that you’re not alone.”

If you are struggling and are considering reaching out to a counsellor, you can take a look at the Asian Mental Health Collective

There are also resources available at the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors.

Facebook groups like ‘Subtle Asian Traits’ and ‘Subtle Asian Mental Health’ are two groups that primarily cater to Asian-Canadians, Asian-Americans and Asian-Australians.