Tag Archives: PTSD

Hate Crimes & The Pandemic Create Mental Health Distress Among Asian Americans

Many Asian Americans say – we can wear a mask to protect against Covid but how can you protect yourself against racism? 

The physical assaults are the stories that show up on the news.  But the mental impacts of racism have been deadly for Asian Americans. They have experienced the highest mental health distress from both the pandemic and rise of hate crimes during pandemic while they are the least likely to seek help for the same.

“There are a lot of trauma reactions, similar to PTSD symptoms. However what makes racial trauma very unique is where PTSD is post traumatic stress disorder, a lot of racial trauma is not post.  There is no ending to it right now.  It is past, present and ongoing.  So, it makes it very unique and tricky trauma symptoms to treat sometimes.” says Linda Yoon, a therapist and the founder of Yellow Chair Collective.  

For many older generation South East Asians including Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian refugee immigrant population, the recent violent crimes have triggered their PTSD symptoms that remind them of war, genocide, displacement they experienced in their home countries.  

Yoon says that there are a lot of physical symptoms in this trauma, including sleeplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, confusion, loneliness, and a lot of anxiety and depression.  And a lot of anger towards the injustice that they are experiencing. 

A lack of understanding of the available mental health services as well as the cultural stigma associated with it, makes it even harder to reach this community.  

The concept of mental health comes from psychology, which comes from the western culture and study, says Yoon and because psychology separates mind from the physical body, it feels alien to the eastern society.  “In traditional eastern medicine and wellness, they talk about yin and yang – balance which also includes balance of your body and mind.  And there is no separation between body and mind.” 

So a lot of times Asian Americans will complain about their mental health symptoms in their physical somatic sense.  “We talk about pain in our body, we talk about anger that lives inside our body, we talk about the shoulder pain that was caused by family stress, we talk about stomach issues that have been impacted by stress and anxiety.” 

To address mental health issues and reduce the stigma, more integrative holistic approaches to mental health will make more sense to Asian populations in a culturally sensitive and linguistically competent manner. 

But the good news is that they do not want to “shoulder the fear burden anymore” reports Anh Do at the LA Times.  At the start, they “bent to cultural tradition” and kept quiet.  They were taught to keep their troubles to themselves.  And they wanted to avoid attention to their families.  But then as assaults increased, they started reporting and creating safety plans for their loved ones. 

 “They gave their children mace.”  “He makes sure his phone battery is always charged ready to be used in case something happens” and he needs to record it. “Never go alone, even for the smallest errand.” “Hyper vigilance, and avoidance of places”. These are some of the strategies ordinary Asian Americans are employing to stay safe, here in America, according to Do.

The potential for bullying, stereotyping and violence is so high that Asian American parents are afraid to send their kids back to school and generally go back in public.  

 

Who are Asian Americans Exactly?

In 1968, UC Berkeley student activists Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka coined the term “Asian American” to unite the different communities of Asian descent and strategically create more political power in numbers.  

Then, in the 1980s and ’90s this classification was broadened even further via the addition of Pacific Islander and creating the term Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI.  While AAPI was meant to be inclusive, in reality it has often had the opposite effect. 

According to Pew Research, this demographic marker includes about 19 million people, up 81 percent since 2000. 59 percent of all Asian Americans are immigrants, including 1.4 million of whom are undocumented. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in America, currently 5.6 percent of the county’s population but projected to be as much as 14 percent by 2065.

The income gaps among different Asian American ethnic groups are the widest of any racial group, and they are still growing. While Indian Americans have the highest median income of $100,000, for example, Burmese Americans have the lowest, at $36,000. By bundling over 50 ethnic groups that speak over a 100 languages under one broad AAPI banner, the aggregated data does a disservice to the individual communities.

But what makes us uniquely Asian says Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan, Professor of Public Policy, UC Riverside, to Vox, “is our “history of exclusion” whether this is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, or the 1917 Immigration Act that barred Indians or by 1924, the Japanese as well. 

In all these three cases, the immigrants came to the US as laborers but were framed as the source of economic problems, and in some cases public health ones, too. 

The yellow peril is a racist metaphor for Asian Americans who are seen as outside threats that are invading the west with their diseases as explained by Professor Russell Jeung, Chair & Professor, Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University, at a USC Center for Health Journalism webinar titled “What Anti-Asian Hate Means for Mental Health, Safety and Justice.”

The “model minority” trope that suggests that all Asian Americans are well off, hardworking and successful and pit them against other minorities “masks the inequalities that Asian Americans face.  The yellow peril is much more operative” suggests Professor Jeung, one of the founders of STOPAAPIHATE.org

“Sometimes when we are on the inside, we are model minorities, we are white adjacent, we are crazy rich Asians. But in times of war, such as Japanese incarceration, or what happened to South Asian muslims and Arab Americans with islamophobia –  in times of economic downturn and in times of pandemic,  Asian Americans are framed as perpetual foreigners, or outsiders who don’t belong” says Professor Jeung.

Time and again, when diseases come from Asia, says Professor Jeung, “Asian Americans are perceived as the source of the diseases, policies seek to exclude them, and Asian Americans are met with interpersonal violence.” 

 

AAPI Hate Crime on the Rise

#stopAAPIhate website tracker was created to collect individual reports, to document the issue, to figure out what’s happening, to track trends, and to provide policy interventions.  The hate and anger directed against Asians was appalling, up to 100 incidents a day and that surge has continued. 

Asian Americans report everything from being barred from ride shares, to being coughed and spat on, their businesses being shunned, their elderly being shoved and kicked, their children being bullied in person and online, racial epithets and slurs and the ever common curse –  “go back to China”. 

Almost unanimously, respondents named racism as their biggest stressor and greatest fear during the pandemic. Asian Americans are more concerned about other American’s hate than they are of a pandemic that has killed over half a million Americans.  That’s how widespread and traumatizing the racism is.  

Here in the Bay Area, there were higher incidents of hate crime against Asians in the beginning of the pandemic. This is likely because Northern California, more dependent on public transportation, the likelihood of different communities and different cultures interacting with one another is greater versus Southern California, which is very steeped in the car culture. 

 

Help is At Hand

In Oakland, a volunteer service has been activated where a volunteer comes within 10-15 minutes of a call to accompany you to the bus stop, help you to a grocery store or back to your home. 

Professor Jeung is angry and sad and distressed about the state of America although he is heartened that the Asian American community is standing up and “seeing our community really mobilize and working in unity with other allies.”

But he questions what healing looks like?  And “as we experience racism, we might become racists – how do I stop this within my own self and how do I stop this for my students? What prescriptions do we have for our society so that we can stop that cycle of violence and racism?”

These are questions that do not have easy answers for us in the South Asian community either.  Many of us faced stigmatization and violence in the aftermath of 9-11 but how do we become better allies and show support to our discriminated Asian brethren now? 

A simple check up on your Asian American friends and neighbors, says Yoon, will go a long way.  Her patients report feeling invisible and alone.  Other strategies include intervening if you can when you see an incident, report what is happening and donate when you can.

Words matter, says Professor Jeung as the world watched Trump’s hate speech about the “China Virus” going viral, and normalizing hate towards the Asian American community.  “We need official statements to normalize love and respect.  It is sort of obvious but it is really needed.” 

So, whatever organization you belong to or work at, pressure them to put out official statements about supporting the AAPI community because it helps them be seen and heard and acknowledge their pain and suffering.  

President Biden’s new actions to respond to the increase in acts of anti-Asian violence have been celebrated in the community as a movement in the right direction. But in order to address the root case will require “ more education, more expanded civil rights protections and more restorative justice models”, says Professor Jeung.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

Kartikaye Mittal

Indian American Devises Collapsible Chamber to Manage Panic Attacks

An Indian American has designed and fabricated a sanctuary that one can retreat into during moments of panic, in a bid to address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a widespread condition in America and the world over. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition, can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. It could cause significant issues in the social life of a person and interfere with the ability to perform daily tasks.

Mittal's Reboot, a collapsible PTSD chamber.
Mittal’s Reboot, a collapsible PTSD chamber.

Kartikaye Mittal, 32, who holds a master’s degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in New York, has created the prototype called Reboot, employing his knowledge of design and engineering, and combining it with his research in psychotherapy and wellness, according to a statement issued on Monday.

Reboot is a collapsible chamber that can be used by survivors of PTSD in moments of panic and is intended to be installed in university campuses, hospitals, airports, malls, and other crowded places. The chamber alters sensory stimuli and creates an environment in which the person can manage one’s emotions without disturbance, distraction or aggravation. It gives the user a personal space to retreat into when needed, to practice the therapeutic exercise prescribed by his or her therapist, to meditate, or just be, it said.

Kartikaye visited PTSD support groups in New York City and consulted psychotherapists as part of his research for Reboot. He discovered that in a trauma-survivor, panic may be triggered at any point in time, especially when in a public place, where one doesn’t have immediate access to his or her therapist. The drive to empower the user made him build several models, experimenting with material, size, shape, and color.

The telescoped space is 5 feet wide, 7.5 feet high, and depth extendable to 4 feet. The chamber collapses to merely 15 inches and can be instantly extended when necessary. The internal surface is designed to absorb sound, the statement said. The primary objectives of this space are dampening the noise from the surrounding environment, spatial comfort, collapsibility, and adaptability to available space in the buildings.

With inputs from clinical psychologists, Mittal was able to keep the look and feel of the structure benign and non-evocative. Neutral grey was the overall color chosen for a muted look. Reboot is Phase 1 of Kartikaye’s initiative to create an aid for trauma survivors. Phase 2 is scheduled to commence soon under his STEAMplant residency at Pratt’s Math & Science department.


Lalit K Jha is the Chief US Correspondent for Press Trust of India (PTI), the largest news agency of India subscribed by over 500 newspapers as well as scores of TV channels and radio stations. Based in the Washington D.C. Metro Area, Lalit extensively covers the White House, the State Department, and US Congress from an Indian perspective, besides writing about Indian Americans.

This article was first published here and has been republished with the permission of the Author.

Mercy, Oh Microbes!

Tigers killed the prehistoric animals, man killed the tigers, and now microbes kill the man. This sequence has been a part of our planet. Our mortal enemy is historically shrinking in size but the destruction caused by IT is getting progressively more devastating because of our lifestyle. A sweeping annihilation of human beings was neither unprecedented nor entirely unexpected.

I remember the words of our Previous Dean at Emory Medical School, who joined us from the National Institute of Health some years ago, that our most threatening enemy is going to be microbes because they have been on this planet far earlier than us and we can never compete with their rate of reproduction.

The only advantage of their vicious visit this time is the lessons they are leaving behind. I do not want to enter the details of the devitalizing vital statistics of this pandemic. Everyone knows them beyond our choice. They will be talked and written about for decades to come.

Some Lessons To Be Learnt: The tragic toll of life that the pandemic has taken will not go entirely in vain if we draw some harsh but needful lessons therefrom.

Lesson 1 – Microbial World

We are surrounded by and inhabited by a microbial world. We have to recognize the good ones from the bad ones. Giving them names such as “evil”, “monsters”, etc. makes no difference to them. They are totally blind to gender, nationality, race, age, and any such outer epithets. We saw how this pandemic eclipsed many royal members, politicians, and physicians. They have no respect for Churches or other religious places either. Many churches were their starting places. They besiege and kill indiscriminately. To keep such Bacteria at bay with the help of scientists is our only available recourse.

Lesson 2 – Indian History and Mythology

I find our Indian History and Mythology to be very instructive in this regard because we have survived many diverse disasters and catastrophes. When we find our disassociation from society so unbearable, remember that Lord Buddha, Shankaracharya, Lord Swaminarayana, Shree Rama, Pandavas have had all their share in living a secluded life. If we are talking about deaths of human beings en masse, we have witnessed many grim tragedies of smallpox, cholera, plague that frequented our country. AIDS still lingers in our memory.

If we are talking about the sudden loss of wealth, India has seen it perhaps more than any other country. I specifically think of Rana Pratap who lost everything he had and was in an exile when his wealthy businessman Bhamasha offered all his wealth and rejuvenated his spirits. I mention this particular episode to remind us that we should follow such an example to support the rebuilding of our adopted country. I believe this is a splendid opportunity for us to pay back our dues to this country by helping restore our sagging economy.

Lesson 3 – Social Distancing

I stand corrected if I am wrong, but we needed to reaffirm our familial cohesiveness. Let us evaluate how we handled our continued togetherness while in seclusion. How cohesive, supportive, and mutually fulfilling were we as a family. 

Let us create a scoreboard of self-assessment. Did the familiarity breed conflict or care? I was so happy to see children playing and couples freely walking on the street…People talked to each other while walking. I rarely saw this before. Maybe we need to restructure our life to promote togetherness.

Lesson 4 – PTSD

 Watch out for PTSD Post Traumatic  Stress Disorder. During and after this excruciating experience, our deeply felt exhaustion is bound to come on the surface.

Many of us would be compelled to recognize the loss of lives and jobs that we sustained. Wounds often bleed later after the trauma is inflicted. Depression, suicidal thoughts, addictive tendencies, a lingering fear may push us to a state of psychosis. We may need to nurse each other with kindness and compassion to promote our combined healing. No social distancing at that time!

Lesson 5 – Nature

Let us also have a critical look at ourselves. There is a precise and piquant Indian saying that when one points one finger at others, three fingers are automatically pointing at him. We have violated the fundamental Laws of Nature over the last several years. From the time of Rigveda on, we have stressed the five elements of Nature, which deserve to be respected as our basic constituents – water, wind, fire, earth, and sky. These should be maintained in harmony to retain our planetary homeostasis. We have thoughtlessly violated the respectful restraint that we should have exercised over them. This is not a superstition but an obvious proof of our violation of the Laws of Nature. There is a rising Global outcry to revert our course and trace our steps back from this grievous misdemeanor. We are OFFLINE now but need to be ONLINE to secure our future. Recognize our faults and repair them. 

Our slumber has been long enough. Let the dawn break.

Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit scholar, philosopher, and a priest who has conducted about 400 Weddings, mainly Interfaith.

Corona Casts Dark Shadow Over Mental Health

Dr. Madhu Bhatia, a psychiatrist in Washington D.C., finished setting up her home office a few days ago, two weeks after the Metro area began to sit up and take notice of COVID 19.

“I’ve already seen an uptick in anxiety among my patients,” she says, “and now, more than ever, I need to stay in touch. I’m expecting an increase in cases, and more Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) type symptoms.”

“This is the first time I’m practicing telepsychiatry on this scale,” she adds wryly. “It’s going to be a new experience for me and many of my colleagues – but it may be the future, for a long time.”
The suddenness and speed of COVID19’s onslaught has sent our health care and our social systems into shock. Equally important, (but in danger of being underplayed as all our attention focuses on the battle with the virus), it has been a massive, invisible shock to our collective psyche.

As we live this in real time, health professionals all over the world are getting more concerned about the long-term emotional fallout from the pandemic. The complete cessation of normal activity in lockdown, a constant ticker tape of rising numbers of those infected and dying on TV, and economic insecurity associated with the shutdown is the perfect formula for creating a sense of suppressed panic and helplessness, which, in turn, is a perfect breeding ground for anxiety disorders and depression.

We can look to China, which was ahead of the curve, for the trajectory of anxiety and anxiety related disorders. Early studies on the effect of the pandemic indicate an enormous, lingering impact on mental health. In the first few weeks of the lock down in China, there was mostly worry about contracting the virus and the safety of loved ones. As more time passed in quarantine, financial strain and more stress with family relations piled onto the general worry for safety.

In an ITV report, Dr. Peng Kaiping, the head of Psychology at Tsinghua University in Hubei province (where the epicenter, Wuhan is located), says they are now increasingly seeing symptoms of PTSD among the population.

“It’s important to remember,” says Dr. Bhatia, “that even something as innocuous as more enforced time at home with the family can become a source of great anxiety, if it isn’t handled correctly. There can be something like too much togetherness. Time has to be managed carefully, especially in families which already have underlying stresses in relationships.”
She advises setting up strict daily routines, especially if there are children at home.

“Children need the security a routine provides. However, they also need social interaction with their peers and a sudden cessation of contact with friends creates anxiety. If they are young, set up facetime playdates for them.”

“For teenagers, try to give each individual enough time on their own and permission to retreat into their own space if they want to, but designate a family time where you come together, especially for meals. Make that a pandemic free space, where things like homework or activities are discussed and optimism about the future is restored.”

“South Asian families are often not very good at expressing their feelings, and there is a sense of shame, specifically in the older generation, in admitting that they are fearful. This is a time when parents should reassure their children (and sometimes their own parents), that it’s important to talk frankly about one’s fears and be supportive of each other.”

Therapists and providers are increasingly adapting their practices to technology to get their message out.

Pallavi Surana, a resident of Herndon, Virginia, and a meditation therapist, has guided a group meditation session every Friday for the past 10 years.

With Virginia’s COVID restrictions, she has now taken it to Facetime (the group dials in from home and meditates together) and increased its frequency to an hour every day.

“Daily Meditation is more important than ever during this crisis,” she says. “We are locked in at home, with our fight or flight responses highly aroused. Calming our minds has an enormous impact on our immune systems, and doing it collectively is even more beneficial. Even a short 20-minute session has an impact.”

Alice Walton in a recent Forbes article suggested important ways to preserve sanity and maintain optimism during these trying times.

Gratitude is a therapeutic emotion. Take time to be grateful for family and friends, and for all the things which are working for you in life. In a Harvard health study, it was found that writing down even 5 things you were grateful for, just once a week, had an enormous positive effect on emotional well-being.

Exercise and meditate daily. Treat these activities as necessary, medicinal doses of stress relief and give them priority. There are several online sites offering free exercise routines and meditation. Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat Zinnat at UMass, has been shown, through many studies, to be very effective. Several organizations now offer this online. Meditation is a proven stress buster and is especially good for our immune systems.

If you aren’t into meditation, studies have shown that just calming your breathing – taking a few minutes a day to sit quietly and breathe deeply – can greatly reduce daily stress. Simple breathing exercises, like those taught in Yoga, (check out these top rated apps), are also great at soothing the mind and producing a sense of well-being.

Your daily exercise routine should be supplemented by “quality time” outdoors. The Japanese concept of “forest bathing,” which means spending as much time in nature as possible and mentally “bathing” in its beauty, is now backed by science. Being around greenery doesn’t just calm the mind – it has a proven effect on our immune system and lowers the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Consider positioning your home office where you have a view of the greenery outside.

And last, but not the least, connect to friends and family daily through whatever means available. Social isolation is like a punishment for our species, because we are wired with a strong need to interact. A recent article in the Washington Post by social scientist, Arthur C. Brooks, emphasizes the importance of social interactions which allow eye contact. Looking directly into a person’s eyes while talking releases oxytocin, the pleasure hormone, and is the most beneficial for our social needs. So, choose a medium like Skype or Zoom or Face Time where you can see your friend or family.

Stay safe, dear reader, and remember to hug your family often! Human touch is a proven therapy for anxiety.

Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.