New Network in Chinatown Addresses Mental Health Issues

The Mental Health Network initiated by the Visiting Nurse was launched at Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association on August 17. (Photo by Yue Li via World Journal)

The Mental Health Network initiated by the Visiting Nurse Service was launched at Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association on August 17. (Photo by Yue Li via World Journal)

[Editor’s note: A group of health and social services organizations gathered in Chinatown on Aug. 17 to announce the formation of a mental health network to help people in need. The World Journal published two related stories the next day. The first story, by Yue Li, immediately below, describes the new network.]

“Mentally ill doesn’t always mean you are crazy.” This is the message the newly formed Mental Health Network would like to send to recent Chinese immigrants.

The network, which was unveiled on Aug. 17 at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in Chinatown, was initiated by Visiting Nurse Service’s Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, and joined by many health and social services organizations including Alzheimer’s Association–New York City Chapter, Asian LifeNet of the Mental Health Association of New York City, Hamilton-Madison House, Henry Street Settlement, the Asian Services Program at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital, the Asian Bridger Program of South Beach Psychiatric Center, University Settlement, and the SMART-MH (Sandy Mobilization, Assessment, Referral and Treatment for Mental Health) project of Cornell University.

The network plans to host a series of mental health-related workshops to raise the awareness of mental health issues in the community and help the public to learn how to manage the stresses of daily life and their emotions.

The reason they formed this network, said the participants, is that the mental health issues among Chinese have been a long-lasting concern of the community. The suicide rate among Asian women 75 or older is nearly twice that of white women 75 and older and more than seven times that of African Americans. In addition, a 2014 survey by the Visiting Nurse Service’s Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community found 8.5 percent people had depression, 13 percent had been depressed or in low mood in the previous two weeks, and 9 percent people said they need professional help.

The network will hold a series of workshops in the next few months, including a “stress relief” workshop at 2 pm to 3 pm on Aug. 28 at 7 Mott St., a “Managing your moods” workshop at 2 pm to 3 pm on Oct. 26 at 62 Mott St., and a “You can sleep like a baby” workshop at 2 pm to 3 pm on Dec. 7 at 2 Mott St.

[The second story, by Xue Li, explores some of the psychological stress suffered by Chinese couples who have recently immigrated to the U.S.]

Many new Chinese immigrants face enormous pressure from marriage, immigration status, study and work. Sometimes it can cause domestic violence, depression, delusion and obsession. Psychologist Yuanxia Zhang said psychological problems of new Chinese immigrants are largely rooted in the frustration of not being able to get what they expect.

Zhang told the story of a middle-aged Chinese man from the northern part of China who was single and has U.S. citizenship. He went back to China to find a wife and then brought his young and pretty bride to the U.S. He told the woman he had a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. But the woman soon found the apartment was in fact government housing. The woman didn’t want to argue too much with the man because she hadn’t yet gotten the green card she hoped to get through the marriage. But she started an affair. The man found out and beat his wife many times.

Zhang said the woman was pregnant when she came to his office. She wanted an abortion but didn’t know how to find a trustworthy gynecologist in a country that was new to her. So she tried to drink iced water, stand on her head and hit her belly at home, hoping to get rid of the fetus by herself. It failed. She got a baby girl. But sustained depression eventually led to cancer, which she died from.

Zhang said immigration status often assumes a significant role in the marriage of new immigrants. “So there are many single people who, once they get citizenship, become so-called ‘international shipping laborers’ — the women they married and brought to the U.S. from China often run away with others soon after they arrive in this country,” said Zhang.

Also, during the time one partner is waiting for the green card sponsored by the other, the two are tied together by the application. Domestic violence is common in such marriages.

To many men the pressure after marriage can make them feel insecure and cause symptoms of delusional disorder. Zhang said he knows a Chinese man who suspected his wife of infidelity. He frequently checked the text messages on his wife’s phone. If the woman went out, he called every 15 minutes to check where she was. He even stalked her. The woman worked at a nail salon. When she talked to her male colleagues, he’d say she was flirting. But when the woman told Zhang her story, she kept saying her husband behaved this way because he “loves me too much.”

Zhang said the man clearly was mentally ill. But people often explain away behaviors. For example, they say that someone who keeps washing their hands, rather than suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, is doing so only because he or she has high hygienic standards, or that children who are obsessed with video games are simply too young to have strong self-control. This self-reassurance often delays patients from seeking professional help.

Zhang also said some young students from rich families in China abuse their suddenly gained independence. Without having their parents watch over them, they fill their lives with luxury cars, drugs and alcohol. Zhang once had a young client brought in by his parents because he was addicted to video games. He kept asking for tuition money from his parents but it turned out he had dropped out of school for two years. To Zhang’s surprise, his parents kept telling the psychologist: “This is a great kid. He is nice to everyone. He even likes to take care of stray cats.”

Zhang said that Chinese culture places a person’s moral virtues above his or her ability. But “not being able to do” whatever one wants to do can often lead to psychological problems. Addiction to video games, drugs and gambling are all impulse control disorders.

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