SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) -- A mental health advocate in California, who has recently been awarded by the State Senate, said on Wednesday that her priority now is to help raise the awareness of mental illnesses among young Chinese Americans.
Elaine Peng, a mental health educator in the San Francisco Bay Area, made the remarks on World Mental Health Day, which is observed on Oct. 10 every year, with the objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of the issue.
This year's theme is "young people and mental health in a changing world." To observe World Mental Health Day, Peng gave a talk at a seminar hosted by John George Psychiatric Hospital in San Leandro, California, on Wednesday night for parents of teenagers.
"Many Chinese parents have no knowledge of mental illnesses and they don't know how to help their children cope with daily life when the kids are mentally challenged," said Peng.
Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated, according to the World Health Organization.
To help prevent mental distress and illness among adolescents and young adults, parents need to be aware of and understand the early warning signs and symptoms of mental illness, said Peng, president of Mental Health Association for Chinese Communities (MHACC).
"Sadly, mental illness is taboo in many Chinese families and they feel ashamed to even talk about it," she said.
Part of the organization's efforts is to teach parents how to help their children build life skills and cope with everyday challenges at home and school.
Peng had worked as a Chinese teacher for more than 10 years before devoting herself to mental health advocate and educator, providing information to reduce prejudice against mental health and reduce stigma among caregivers.
She was recently given the "Local Hero" award by California Senator Bob Wieckowski for her "selfless and active" community leadership.
"Dedicated to promoting mental health services and providing peer support within the underserved Chinese community, Elaine Peng helped establish the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Chinese Community Service Committee in the San Francisco Bay Area and developed the first NAMI Chinese website in the United States, in addition to having developed multiple NAMI programs for the Chinese community," said Wieckowski in a California Senate resolution dated Sept. 26.
Because of culture-related factors, such as family conflict, perceived discrimination and ethnic identity, many Chinese immigrants tend to avoid talking about mental illnesses even when they suffer from depression or other mental illnesses, said Peng.
According to the Asian American Journal of Psychology, Asian Americans have lower rates of using any type of mental health-related services than the general population.
Peng said she still remembered when she asked the audience to raise their hands if they were afraid of mental illnesses at a Chinese community event in the Bay Area three years ago, almost everyone of the audience raised their hands.
"I feel Chinese people now are more open to talking about mental illnesses, which is progress," said Peng. "The challenges are to help people understand that it is an illness and there are medicines and treatment available."
She said it may take several generations of effort to work on the prejudice and stigma attached to mental illnesses, but it's important to "move towards the right direction."