HOUSTON - A Houston therapist is hoping to erase the stigma of mental illness within the Asian community.
What started as a social media forum on Facebook a year and a half ago, has now grown into a global mission.
The Asian Mental Health Collective now draws nearly 50,000 users worldwide.
"Growing up we don’t really have the opportunity to be vulnerable and talk about our feelings with our parents, with our family. I just don’t want other people to have to go through that," said Christopher Vo, the founder of The Asian Mental Health Collective.
Driven by his own personal need to express and de-stigmatize mental health issues, Vo recognized the need to create a safe space for other Asian Americans to talk openly about their struggles, especially those exacerbated by COVID-19.
"Especially when COVID first hit, there was lots of talk about racism and feeling like we were being blamed for this when we didn’t have anything to do with it," Vo said.
As a trained and licensed marriage and family therapist based in League City, Vo recognized that the solution may be as simple as an online forum to protect users’ anonymity.
"The Asian community values stoicism, saving face – a lot of those concepts like honor. Being sad is seen as almost a sign of weakness," Vo said.
The Asian Mental Health Collective connects users to therapists of Asian descent in their area that can relate and understand.
"I felt like I couldn’t even share remotely my interests or how I was feeling and now my kids come home and they say things like I’m stressed out. That to me is what I want to promote more," said Jeanie Chang, a therapist based in North Carolina.
Professional mental health volunteers listen in and help steer those who need help to the appropriate resources and in some cases, refer them to a licensed therapist in their area.
Some members, like Jacqueline Lee, say they are forever grateful for the outlet.
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"Since my bipolar 1 diagnosis two years ago, I’m grateful for the group keeping me out of the hospital and being indispensable towards my self-recovery goals," Lee said.
"We have Reddit, Instagram, YouTube, even the apps the kids use, like Tik Tok, trying to develop and grow into those because that’s what the next generation uses. It’s no longer just therapy for people who have a lot of disposable income," Vo said.
Houston City leaders will be hosting a live, virtual town hall Friday evening starting at 6 p.m. to discuss dealing with mental health issues during the pandemic. This will be the 2nd virtual town hall the city has hosted since the pandemic began.
Mayor Turner, along with local mental health professionals and faith leaders will lead the discussion.