“因为当人们被隔离的时候，很难有机会知道，谁在无声地经历痛苦。”曾服务于纽约州精神健康办公室30年的Kin-Wah Lee说。与Kin-Wah Lee一样在亚裔精神健康领域服务多年的心理咨询师Pam Yew Schwartz博士说：“我们能做的，就是建立精神保护网，尽量多加一层——在每层保护网之下再加一层网，如果一层破了还有另一层。”
（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: Adding the Safety Net
"Many people gained weight when they stayed at home during the pandemic, but I lost several pounds." Mrs. Qiu recalled her life during the pandemic in the past year, feeling exhausted.
In 1986, Mrs. Qiu immigrated to the United States with her husband, who was knowledgeable and elegant. But four years ago, Mr. Qiu was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He is now in the middle and late stages, and his cognition has deteriorated. He can’t remember things and needs someone to look after him 24 hours a day."
Although it is very hard to take care of her husband, Mrs. Qiu still maintains a good routine and enjoys a peaceful life: "Before the pandemic, we went to the senior center nearby to eat lunch every day. We left home at about 11:30, and returned at 1:00 pm. And then, we took a walk at about 4 or 5 pm. In this way, I kept my husband busy and it would be easier for me to take care of him.” But after the pandemic began, the senior centers were closed, and they had to stay at home. Mr Qiu didn’t understand and wanted to go out like before. It was even harder for Mrs Qiu to soothe his temper:"He doesn't know anything. He always resists. And of course I know he is sick, but I am also a human being, I have my limits, I will lose my temper. I know I shouldn’t, so I keep it to myself.” Mrs. Qiu said it is impossible for her family members and friends to understand her feelings, because they don’t have the same experience. “Like once, I told my son I was angre. My son tried to comfort me saying that will you quarrel with your grandson? Because his dad’s cognition has degenerated to 3 or 4 year-old. I replied that if I teach my grandson, he will learn. But for my husband, he is an adult, he is not a child."
For Mrs Qiu, the people who could understand her are the ones that like her: family caregivers who has been taking care of Alzheimer's patients during the pandemic. "Fortunately, I participated in the support group of Alzheimer Care Service. We meet online once every two weeks, sharing our thoughts with each other, spitting out bitterness, and learning some information, such as the updated information of the pandemic. "This has been a very important way for Mrs. Qiu getting emotional support. Weijing Shi, who is in charge of CaringKing Alzheimer care and service for the Chinese community, said that as a trained professional social worker, when contacting the client, she would naturally make a mental health assessment: “From my experience, 70% to 80% of the caregivers in Alzheimer families have anxiety and depression. They have anxiety because they don’t know what the care recipients will do tomorrow, and depression is because they feel hopeless."
CaringKind provides services to Alzheimer’s patients and their families, ranging from education to nursing care. Many services have been affected during the pandemic, but caregivers’ group meetings have persisted. "We used our phones, and then slowly started to use online meetings. In the pandemic, the energy of our group was fully utilized, and it really helped everyone." Weijing Shi said that during the pandemic, some participants lost their family members. Because of the regular contact she maintained with them, Weijing was able to detect the emotions of the members and provide timely guidance: "We have such a place to ease everyone's stress."
"One of the best ways to maintain mental health is to share with others."Echo Song, who has been engaged in mental health education for many years, said: "You have to be willing to express your own difficulties and feelings, so that your brains can get a short break from the things that has being bothering you all the time. This is a good way to block the symptoms of mental illness from continuing having negative effects on us." It is very important to establish groups like Alzheimer caregivers’ group to help everyone relieve emotional stress through sharing and communication activities.
"At the beginning of 2018, we Launched a hotline called NYC WELL (1-888-692-9355) to address the mental health crisis. It can provide short-term counseling and also help to find a therapist nearby." Echo Song, Public Information Speaker, Community Engagement & Training
Specialist of NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, stated data: "If we compare the call we received from our hotline NYC WELL during July to October, 2020, to the same period of time in 2019. There is an increase of 44%. Totally in 2020, NYCWELL received more than 300,000 requests for help.” Echo said that these numbers can obviously show that everyone in NYC, more or less, has been mentally affected by the pandemic.
"If people are so isolated, you really miss the opportunities, because no one would know they were sufferring in silence." said Kin-Wah Lee, who has served in the New York State Office of Mental Health for 30 years. Dr. Pam Yew Schwartz, a therapist who has also served Asian American community for many years, said: “What we can do is to keep adding safety net under each one. If one fall through one, you have another one."
June is Mental Health Awareness Month in New York City. 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.