Monday, May 14, 2007
Cultural barriers to mental health
About this time a month ago, I was rushing to catch a plane to Roanoke, Virginia. Just an hour before, sitting in the CNN newsroom and pecking away on the keyboard, I heard a collective gasp. 20 dead at Virginia Tech. Next thing I knew, my colleague Elizabeth Cohen and I were driving through the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains, toward one of the most heartbreaking stories we had ever covered.
That sadness came back during a visit to Houston last week. Elizabeth and I were working on a story about Asian-Americans and mental health. Plans were already in the works to investigate this topic when Virginia Tech happened. Elizabeth and I learned a lot about the cultural barriers surrounding simply talking about mental health. For example, in many Asian languages, there is no word for "depression." According to researchers, Doctors Albert Yeung and Raymond Kam, the term "mental disorder" is frequently translated in Chinese as jing shen bing which in the mind of most Chinese means "craziness." You can find out more about what we learned Wednesday night on "Paula Zahn Now."
But here's a little bit of what you won't hear. Consider it the "producer's cut." After the interviews were over, Stu, our photographer, and I went to shoot additional material at a Korean-American senior center. Sitting around long tables, about 60 seniors were watching a PowerPoint presentation. Even though the conversation was in Korean, the topic was obvious. Images of brains and sad looking people filled the screen. They were talking about depression.
As Stu took pictures, a very sweet woman offered us a handmade gift of jongie jupgi, Korean origami. She had folded paper in the shape of a swan. They were absolutely mesmerizing. Pictures shot and birds in hand, we started to leave. But before we could, the president of the group said he wanted to make a statement. Speaking on behalf of the senior center, he wanted to extend deepest condolences to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre and announce that his group had raised money for the victims' families. This distinguished and proud man worried the actions of Seung-Hui Cho reflected badly on all Koreans. The real issue, he went on to say, was the lack of mental health services and gun control.
Walking out of the center, I was struck by what we had just witnessed, and as the days pass, I am still thinking about it. As a white woman, no one would ever expect me to defend my sex or race for the violent actions of someone like Jeffery Dahmer or Aileen Wuornos. But from terror to terrorists, minority communities are often expected to apologize when someone of the same race or group commits a heinous crime. Why do you think this is? Also, I know it's only been a month since the Virginia Tech tragedy, but do you think the country is any closer to investing more in mental health services and research?
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