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Interview with Dr. Noel Ramirez about Mental Health in Asian Americans

Dr. Noel Ramirez, the director, psychotherapist and consultant at Mango Tree Counseling and Consulting, a mental health resource center targeted towards Asian American in the Philadelphia Metro area, discussed his views on Asian American mental health through an interview with the Indonesian Lantern. Here are his thoughts: 

Q. What is the most common mental health struggle you see within Asian American clients?

A. Asian-American life experiences are super diverse and have incredible variance when it comes to why folks are seeking mental health support at this time. In our practice, we see a wide range of behavioral health needs. Some of the common themes that we hear a lot are the hunger for belonging, fears of being too much or not enough, and dealing with intergenerational pain and wanting to cultivate intergenerational resilience. 

Q. What do you think we need to change to help individuals who struggle with mental health issues get better? (Culturally, institutionally, educationally, etc.)

A. Collectively, we haven’t prioritized mental wellness in our current institutions, specifically in education and also funding for services.  Institutionally, we need to fund and develop mental wellness initiatives and resources in the institutions and spaces that our community exists in: school, community centers, medical centers.  We’ve made some progress with mental health parity laws and developing integrated health care programming in primary care, but institutionally, I haven’t seen the financial investment in community mental health programming yet. 

Regarding our AAPI community, I want to honor us and our efforts, in that there is a lot of mental wellness programming that occurs organically.  Programs like the Asian American Film Festival, Vietlead, Philadelphia Asian and Queer, API PA, Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, Chinese Immigrant Family Wellness Initiative, Asian Mosaic Fund, PAACH at Upenn, and all the wonderful student peer-led AAPI organizations. 

I want to encourage folks to enter our field of mental health. This is not a typical trajectory promoted by many AAPI families.  My own family was very confused by my choice to pursue mental health as a career, and in fact discouraged my choice fearing that I would be kidnapped or something.  But, it’s actually not far from many of our traditions. Filipino culture has a rich oral-history tradition, and I feel like in this work, I get to witness the oral histories of our community.  There aren’t a lot of us, AAPI mental health clinicians, out there and my group, Mango Tree Counseling & Consulting, hopes to co-create a pipeline to get more of us out there to support our community. 
Q. What advice can you give to parents with children who they suspect may be suffering from mental health issues?

A. I would first normalize that mental health struggle is a part of living life and living in a complex world.  So many of our families internalize shame and blame when there is struggle and challenge. Additionally, I would encourage folx to get as much education as possible around what mental wellness is and to continue to talk about it.  Mango Tree Counseling and Consulting offers mental wellness seminars on the 2nd Thursdays of the Month, 8pm EST. These seminars are free and open to the Asian-American community and are facilitated by therapists of Mango Tree Counseling & Consulting.  

– Farah Feddaraini & Indah Nuritasari

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