By Diana Choi, Co-Founder, The Holistic Panda
Did you know? More than half of the population in Vancouver speaks a language other than English as their first language. And we have the highest concentration of ethnic Chinese in North America with close to 550,000 in BC alone.
It is one of the reasons my parents decided to immigrate here from Hong Kong in 1996. They wanted a place where we could easily assimilate ourselves and find some resemblance of home despite being miles away. Growing up, I managed to stay true to my roots by having a diverse mix of friends and weekly excursions to Richmond, where I could speak Cantonese and Mandarin. It didn’t feel so different from home.
The desire to fit in
Having a diverse population in Vancouver also means that the care for this community needs to be culturally sensitive and, well, diverse.
Growing up as First-Generation Asian-Canadian, I struggled with my identity. My parents instilled traditional Asian values and expectations in us from an early age. Yet, I didn’t fit into this mold like they hoped for. I switched between schools, tried and abandoned various interests, and pursued career paths that did not pay the bills. As I tried to navigate these transitions, I felt lost, unsupported and even became angry at myself. When my school suggested I seek counseling for support, my parents scoffed at the idea but reluctantly complied.
Unfortunately, it’s well known in Asian culture that mental health is still considered taboo. In my interview with Clinical Psychologist and Asian Canadian Dr. Joseph Choy, he highlighted that traditional Asian culture is inherently collectivistic and values interdependence over independence. As Asians, we avoid standing out from the crowd. The desire to fit in makes it hard to freely express our emotions. And even talking about our emotions is often perceived as a sign of “weakness.”
Covid highlighted a lack in understanding and care
As much as Vancouver has prided itself on its ethnic diversity, it has unfortunately been centre for anti-Asian hate crimes. Last year during the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, more anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in Vancouver than in the top 10 most populous U.S. cities combined ( The Guardian reported a 717% increase in hate crimes).
These shocking incidents have taken a toll on the mental wellness of a community that’s already struggling to seek mental health treatment and services. It highlighted a lack in understanding and care for Asian Canadians and brought up a real need for therapists and resources that value culture when providing therapy. It’s at this point when I and two other friends began to have an idea on how to change this.
Bridging the gap with culturally competent care
In 2020, when the pandemic began and Asian hate became more visible, the importance of health – physical, mental, emotional – became undeniable and I, along with two friends, recognized something needed to be done.
I came together with Janet Lam, and Sangsoo Ra, to create an online wellness platform, The Holistic Panda, so we could make it easy for people within my community to find a diverse range of alternative healing therapies and wellness services. In our research, many explained to us they always felt health care providers would not “get” them, or that they would have to explain everything, but studies have shown that mental health can be more effective when therapists value their clients’ culture and make them feel welcome, heard, and understood.
At Holistic Panda, our wellness platform allows users to explore and book different holistic treatments and services provided by trusted practitioners based on their health goals. This includes life and health coaching, energy therapies, mind and body healing work, and even holistic beauty treatments. We currently have 40 and growing practitioners in our network, with ⅓ of them being Asian!
Normalizing mental health for Asians
Asian Americans are 3 times less likely to seek mental health services than other racial groups.
When I asked Dr. Choy what we can do to start normalizing mental wellness for Asians, he said we can start by educating ourselves, being curious, and talking openly about mental health.
Since the start of this project, I’ve begun openly sharing my struggles in my mental wellness journey with close friends and have come to realize that I’m not alone in my feelings, and don’t need to suffer in silence.
Fortunately, there are also a growing number of organizations such as The Asian Mental Health Collective that provides a lot of mental wellness resources to support the Asian community, including a directory to Asian therapists and Asian-focused organizations in different provinces and states. There is also Jack.org that provides links to various services to help the Asian Canadian community for mental health.
Mental health is not a sign of weakness, it’s powerful
At Holistic Panda we want Asians in Vancouver and beyond to know that mental health is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it optimizes all aspects of our lives. Happier, more mindful beings are more productive at work, make better life decisions, and have more fruitful relationships. By taking care of you, you are all the more powerful.