From left: Linh Vo (MFT student, Changing Tides), Ty Tanioka (Changing Tides) and Mia Yamamoto (criminal defense attorne and civil rights activist) discuss mental health experiences at “Together: A Community Conerence on Mental Health and Well-Being.”

On Sept. 16, Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) hosted “Together: A Community Conference on Mental Health and Well-Being” at the Japanese American National Museum.

Approximately 150 people attended the day-long conference dedicated to reducing stigma and opening up the conversation about mental health in the Asian American community. Uniquely, the conference addressed mental health issues across generations and included workshops for both English-speaking and Japanese-speaking populations. 

This is LTSC’s second mental health conference, following its first conference back in 2019. Since then, the stress of the COVID pandemic and prevalence of anti-Asian hate crimes have contributed to a rise in mental health issues and suicide in the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community. LTSC has been working diligently to build a network of mental health experts and community advocates to increase support for Asian American mental health.

“In response to the post-pandemic mental health crisis that we’re seeing across all age groups, our social services department decided to host a mental health conference this year,” said Margaret Shimada, LTSC’s director of service programs. “Asian Americans are the least likely to access mental health services compared to any other racial or ethnic group. Culturally, we tend to mask or minimize those feelings for fear of being judged.

“Open conversations and sharing stories are important for reducing stigma and normalizing mental health, which is why community gatherings such as LTSC’s Together Conference are so important.”

“Together” opened with an intergenerational panel that discussed the state of mental health in the community. Linh Vo (MFT student and Changing Tides crew member) moderated the panel of Dr. John Lou (director of psychiatric residency training at UC Irvine and director of emergency and consultation-liaison psychiatry at UCI Medical Center), Mia Yamamoto (Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist) and Ty Tanioka (Changing Tides crew member), who shared their personal mental health struggles and how they moved through them.

Charlotte Nguyen, CMT-P leads a session called “The Body Is a Portal: Somatic Movement for Rest, Resilience and Awareness.”

They highlighted cultural barriers that influence help-seeking, such as the fear of bringing shame to the family or community, and reiterated the importance of finding culturally appropriate mental health care. The open and honest dialogue set a tone for the rest of the conference.

“I enjoyed the opening panel. It was great to hear from a variety of people from a mental health professional to someone from the queer community to someone that’s from my generation,” shared an attendee.

Dr. Mary Ann Takemoto was in attendance. She is a retired vice president of student affairs and director of counseling and health services at CSU Long Beach and is currently a member of LTSC’s Board of Directors.

“As a psychologist who has been in the mental health field for the past 30 years, I feel that there is reason to be optimistic. Holding a conference on mental health is evidence of the progress we have made in our community. I applaud the efforts of those who are willing to be open and honest about their mental health journeys,” Takemoto said.

“With each generation, there is more openness to seeking help, but we must continue to be advocates for mental health care. Perhaps one day in the future, it will be as easy for us to talk about mental health issues such as anxiety or depression as it is to talk about physical health issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes.”

Attendees folded origami cranes with messages of hope for the Makawao Buddhist Temple in Maui, which was impacted by the recent fires. The cranes were strung and displayed at the temple’s 2023 Peace Day event.

The conference provided a variety of workshops and sessions ranging from educational presentations to movement workshops to personal testimonials. Topics included suicide prevention, somatic movement, psychiatry, senior isolation, starting therapy, occupational therapy for children, mindfulness through collaging, and more.

The event closed with a musical performance by aspiring mental health professional Emma Lin.

One attendee shared, “I’m astounded by the range of sessions for all ages! I’m going to start working with middle-schoolers soon, so I wanted to be aware of ways to work with them effectively. And my mom is older and single, so I’m looking forward to the session on senior isolation. I love that the conference is so affordable, it really makes it approachable.”

Another attendee reflected, “I have a background in social work, so I’ve been in a lot of mental health spaces. But today is emotional for me, seeing the API community come together. Seeing elders, young people, and talking about our shared culture has just been really emotional. This conference is great!”

“Together” was sponsored by The Atlas Kardia Foundation, Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis (First District), Japanese American National Museum, Kambara Family Fund, Kinecta Federal Credit Union, Kanai Family Foundation, Dick and Pauline Kaku, Keiro, and Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles.

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