Hong Fook Mental Health Association has launched a photo-voice project “Our Journeys on Canvas”, a mental health awareness campaign led by youth, for youth since December 2017. On March 23, 2018, youth leaders from Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities presented the collected photos and shared stories of a wide-range of mental health challenges faced by East Asian youth, who have been always quiet but extremely under-served. They also expressed their wishes to increase public attention, supports and resources to East Asian youth with community service providers, local elected officials and corporate supporters at the launch.
The youth leaders from different universities and colleges in the GTA outreached and produced 119 photos showcasing mental health challenges and coping strategies experienced by East Asian youth. Many photos shared common themes on loneliness and isolation. Charlotte Liang, a youth leader said: “I didn’t get involved in any school activities in my first year in the university, not because I didn’t want to make friends, but because I was afraid that my broken English would embarrass me in front of my peers.”
With a tendency of internalizing their stressors and challenges, East Asian newcomer youth quietly suffer from exclusion and even racism. Jasmine Choi recalled her first and last time ever racist bullying experience when she just immigrated with her parents as a teenager. “I was walking down the hallway with another ESL girl and suddenly got hit at the back of my head by a sandwich thrown by a white girl. I ran straight at her and screamed, but unfortunately it happened in front of the Vice Principal’s office. He rushed out and caught me in, only me. I told him everything, but he only told me to write down my parents’ contacts because I committed a school violence. I refused and ran away because I knew that there was nothing that my parents could do to fight back the unfairness with their broken English… I used to be lazy whenever my parents asked for my interpretation help even though I knew they always asked me with sorry, but after that experience and till now, I go wherever they go as their daughter, interpreter, and a guardian.”
A number of visa students were also involved in the photo collection. Ronald Ng shared: “When I entered the college with no friends and family in Toronto, I only received a welcome package with some freebies from the school. It was very hard to navigate and find support at the beginning. Even now, I know some of my classmates still don’t realize there is a counselling service on campus, some of them are even confused with the concept of counselling, probably because the counselling is not in Chinese and there is no outreach done in Chinese.”
Dr. Lin Fang, the President of Hong Fook Mental Health Association, echoed that under the stereotypic image of “model minorities,” East Asian youth suffer quietly from emotional or mental distress. She quoted a report from the Toronto District School Board, “According to TDSB’s 2011-12 Student Census, East Asian students as a group have the highest proportion with low emotional well-being, including lower self-esteem, self-image, confidence and hopefulness, as well as higher rates of stress, sadness and loneliness.” She added, “Linguistically and culturally competent mental health services are very much needed to young people in our East Asian communities.”
Mrs. Kam Lo, the Chair of Hong Fook Mental Health Foundation, emphasized “Underserving affects the well-being of the youth. Our Foundation understands the urgency of increasing timely and professional mental health supports to East Asian youth. Every year, the Foundation is dedicated to bringing in more partners and supporters from the corporate sector through our fundraising Gala and major giving campaigns.”
Hon. Michael Coteau, MPP for Don Valley East and Minister of Children and Youth Services, Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism and Minister of Community and Social Services, said “I am very pleased to celebrate this powerful project and the brave youth behind the photos and stories. Thank you to the young people who have shared their experiences and who are raising awareness around mental-health challenges. Our government has and will continue to fight for fairness and opportunity for everyone, especially and including young people, and I will continue to push for strong supports for children and youth to ensure they get every opportunity to succeed.”