Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which this year is on February 19, 2015. On this day the Chinese community will practice the power of positive thinking as they greet each other with well wishes and a cheerful Gong Xi Fa Cai! In Canada, the Chinese community is one of the largest visible minority groups, representing nearly five percent of the population. A recent study looking at the health status of aging Chinese-Canadians found that although they reported better physical health than their aging Canadian counterparts, they reported poorer mental health. Evidence suggests that the mental health needs of Chinese-Canadians are seldom met; they are among the least likely group to seek help for mental health problems due to social stigma, shame, blame, and saving face.
“In many parts of East Asia, mental illness is usually attributable to external factors, such as evil spirits, transgression or cold wind,” Ka-Ming Kevin Yue, a Chinese-Canadian family physician, told the Vancouver Sun recently. Mental health challenges are often resolved by consulting spiritual leaders or astrologers or ignored altogether.
Many Chinese boys and men face particular hurdles around seeking help for mental health issues, as it can be seen as a feminine trait or a sign of weakness. Not surprisingly, Chinese Canadian men are seven times less likely to visit a mental health professional and 10 times less likely to visit a psychiatrist compared with men in the general Canadian population.
Traditions like Chinese New Year can directly benefit mental health through social support, as it is an occasion for Chinese families to gather and spend time together. Several community-based initiatives in Canada also work throughout the year to address mental health stigma in the Chinese community. For example, an initiative called Strength in Unity,funded by Movember Canada, is engaging boys and men from Asian-Canadian communities to become mental health ambassadors to raise awareness and build anti-stigma efforts in their own cultural communities.
Advancing equity in mental health is one of CMHA Ontario’s core strategic directions and their current work includes the development of a framework to address equity issues in the mental health context. Read more about CMHA Ontario’s work on health equity.