Discuss mental health at the White House

Photo by Emily J. Davis

l work with a non-profit mental health organization, Asian Mental Health Collective, which matches therapists with patients based on cultural compatibility and also hosts an online support community. The group was one of the partners of the first-ever Youth Mental Health Action Forum, hosted by the White House and MTV Entertainment, and they asked for volunteers to sign up. They were looking for 30 young adults from very diverse backgrounds. I was in shock when I was chosen. I was the only one selected from Orange County, and I was one of two doctoral students there. So that really speaks to the fact that there were people from so many different backgrounds.

I was born and raised in Orange County and studied psychology and integrated educational studies at Chapman University. After three years of college, I wanted to stay in OC because I have a huge family here. I eventually ended up at UCI’s Social Ecology program and over the last two years I found out where my passion for research lies, which is Digital Mental Health and, in particular, looking at Digital Mental Health through a cultural lens.

There is a cultural stigma around mental health and seeking help, especially in the Asian community. Many young people are unable to seek help due to family dynamics and the culture they are in, which may not be supportive. So digital mental health — online peer support communities, social media, streaming services — complements in-person therapy.

For the forum, they flew us to Washington, DC in May and we had an entire weekend of events, including forming groups and giving presentations on groundbreaking mental health action ideas. My group had an idea for a Gen Z and Gen Z podcast with a call to action that would allow people to create their own digital mental health toolkit. And that has now been picked up by Spotify.

We met Selena Gomez, who talked about her Rare Beauty Initiative. And we also met with members of the Biden administration. I had an in-depth conversation with Dr. Jill Biden about the importance of young people being mentored by those in power, especially women. She told me about a college mentorship program she started at the community college where she teaches and encouraged me to do the same.

Then the president surprised us. He just walked in very casually and talked to everyone. That was really incredible. He was exactly as you would think. He told many stories and he talked about having a friend with PTSD and about his first exposure to mental health issues. He was there talking to us for a long time, to the point that his staffers tried to pull him away. I was able to shake his hand and thank him for his commitment to increasing access to mental health care. It was a very surreal moment.
– As told to Astgik Khatchatryan

Read more in our January 2023 Top Doctors issue:

Discuss mental health at the White House

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