“我从进门就开始笑，逢人就笑，对着陌生人也会打招呼，我喜欢让别人开心。”Mija Lee穿着玫红色的毛衣、粉色的马甲，温柔地微笑着，让人很难将她与抑郁症联系在一起。然而来自韩国，从1970年代开始居住在法拉盛的Mija Lee，患有严重的抑郁症。“她的抑郁症，源自早年的经历，之后移民的艰辛生活，家庭的困扰，令她很难走出抑郁的困境。”心理咨询师Yuna Youn，是韩裔社区服务中心（KCS）精神健康诊所的临时助理主任，她在KCS的老人中心认识Mija Lee，Mija是KCS活动中活跃的志愿者，丰富的社区服务中心活动，也成为Mija走出抑郁阴影的助力。
（The Gerontological Society of America, The Journalists Network on Generations and the Silver Century Foundation）赞助的系列节目中，我们特别关注在过去一年的疫情里，亚裔老人的精神健康经历了怎样的危机，同时，一起寻找如何获得各方的帮助，像保护我们的身体健康一样，守护我的精神健康。
Mental Health of Asian Elderly in the Pandemic: Making Connection to the World
"I smiled since I entered the door. I smiled and greeted to whomever I met, even strangers. I like to make others happy, it doesn’t cost me anything." Mija Lee was wearing a rose red sweater and pink vest and smiled gently. It is hard to associated her with depression. However, she suffered years from severe depression. Mija and her husband emigrated to US and lived in Flushing since the 1970s. "She has since then experienced some mental health issues, specific concerns that were rooted in her childhood." Yuna Youn, a psychotherapist and the interim assistant director of the Mental Health Clinic in Korean Community Service Center (KCS), met Mija through the KCS Senior Center. Mija was an active volunteer in KCS. The rich activities in KCS also helped Mija get out of the shadow of depression.
However, after the outbreak of the Pandemic, all the seniors centers in New York City had to be closed. "I clearly remember the time we heard the first confirmed case in our Flushing Senior Center. We closed the Senior Center on March 23 to ensure that all contacts are isolated at home." Helen Ahn, director of the KCS Senior Centers, said that since then, all the in-person services had been on pause until now. "We insist on continuing the food delivery service, because for many elderly people living alone, food delivery, once everyday, is their lifeline. While we deliver the food, many of our members expressed that they more or less suffered from anxiety, loneliness and depression. For some serious cases, we refer them to our mental health clinic for intervention."
"When it comes to receiving mental health, a lot of people have come to the clinic ever since COVID. So it’s gone up. But it’s more about accessibility issues. " Yuna said, "If someone doesn’t use the internet, or has never used Zoom, or doesn’t have a phone. So that was an example, when we did a workshop during COVID, we had to have the relationship between the staff who provide the homebound meals bring phones to seniors and then give them training on how to use Zoom so that they could even begin.” Yuna said that if people wanted to do one-on-one theraphy, they need to use Zoom through out the year, that would naturally rule out a lot of seniors.
"It’s really hard for people who has depression." Mija recalled her experience in the past year. She not only need to take care of her body and spirit, but also had to take care of her husband who suffered from severe diabetes and Alzheimer: "I used to be a nurse and I was able to do some finger tests for him. But I have back pain and other health problems. He put soiled diapers here and there, because he has Alzheimer. My backpain got worse.” And what’s more painful is that no one she can communicate: “I ccould’t control myself, I once walked around in the middle of the night. I cried, I ran out the door, but because of the COVID, there was no one outside. I’m old, I don’t know how to use a computer or play games. I begged my friends to come out for lunch, but they didn’t dare to. I must try to control myself not to commit suicide every day. If KCS opens, things won’t be like this ."
Like Mija, many Asian elders regard the senior center as almost the most important part of their lives, because there, they can have opportunities for social and communication. During the pandemic, many senior centers tried to move their activities online, but they encountered many unexpected difficulties. "We stumbled up on a data that says zipcode 10002, half of the household in the survey shows that they have no wifi at home." said Wellington Chen, Executive Director of the Chinatown Partnership, who has served Chinatown for many years: "That means that during this internet age when everything in online, all the applications, helps and resources are online, it’s basically ‘you are isolated’. " The most vulnerable population in the pandemic are the seniors, because they are the one with the highest risk. So as a result they have to be alone. “And on top of alone, you have no contact, no communication. ” Wellington said.
"They should have Chromebook available for seniors as a right." Kin-Wah Lee, the former President of New York Coalition for Asian American Mental Health, who has served in the New York State Office of Mental Health for 30 years, said that Chromebooks are not expensive, especially when you compared to long-term prescribing anti-psychotic medication, anti-depression pills “or they wanna suicide and go to the hospital.” Chromebooks are very small investment to bring a lot of wellbeing to our seniors.
“If the seniors have WiFi and Chrombooks, the world will open up to them. ” Kin-Wah Lee said.
May is Asian Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. We launched our special programs paying attention to the crisis in the mental health of Asian elderly people during the COVID pandemic in the past year. The program is sponored by The Gerontological Society of America, The Journalists Network on Generations and the Silver Century Foundation. We hope to promote the mental health while call for more attention to the equal access to the mental health resouces.