Charlie working hard to break down barriers

Our Work / Kai Xin Xing Dong / Charlie working hard to break down barriers

Helping people in New Zealand’s Asian communities who are affected by mental illness is something close to Charlie Sheng Tang’s heart.

For several years now he’s been working on a project at the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) to reduce discrimination and increase acceptance of Asian people who experience mental illness.

According to the 2013 Census, around one in four people in Auckland are Asian. The main issue in Asian communities is late presentation to mental health services because of stigma surrounding mental illness. Charlie says there’s a growing need for resources to help them and their family members.

“We are helping young Asian people with mental health issues by educating their family members to better understand and support them,” he says.

Charlie is a MHF programme design and delivery specialist, and the project he is involved with is called Kai Xin Xing Dong, which is Chinese for “an open and loving heart”.

Kai Xin Xing Dong (KXXD) has been running for eight years reducing stigma and discrimination in Chinese communities, and is part of the Like Minds, Like Mine national programme.

Project expands to include other Asian cultures

Recently, KXXD’s had a bit of a makeover and is now also focussed on the Korean, Filipino and Indian communities, who along with Chinese make up New Zealand’s largest Asian populations.

Charlie is working with these communities to help them deliver a similar KXXD message to their loved ones and coordinate their own resources. KXXD has also worked with other Asian communities such as Malaysian and Taiwanese.

New Chinese/English bi-lingual website

He’s also making a start on a new bilingual Chinese/English website, which will go live before Christmas.

The new website will feature stories about Chinese people supporting loved ones who are mentally unwell. These will be a source of inspiration and encouragement for other individuals and families in their situation, Charlie says.

It will also include stories of recovery from Chinese people with experience of mental health issues, and from health professionals who have information about how to access the right services, and how to support Chinese patients with mental illness.

“If people can see and hear stories about others with mental health issues, it helps break down barriers. People reading the stories will understand how to help their family members, and encourage them to seek help early,” Charlie says.

The new website will also have information about what stigma and discrimination looks like, the New Zealand health system, myth busting and where to get more help.

Part of the KXXD project also involves promoting the website through print resources and Chinese social media sites such as WeChat.

Discrimination in Chinese community

Charlie says there’s a lot of discrimination in the Chinese community against people with mental health issues.

“In the Chinese community, if someone has a mental health issue they seek help from within their family rather than access services. But the truth is you actually need this kind of help and support. They also think you have no future if you’re unwell, which isn’t true either.

“In Chinese culture we work towards success. Social status is important, so people will feel ashamed if they or a family member aren’t working and earning money.”

Personal experience of mental illness

Charlie says that hope is important for the person with the mental illness AND for family members, as this helps aid recovery.

As a person who has experienced mental illness, Charlie’s well aware of the challenges faced. Key to his recovery was having a supportive family and being able to work.

“We want people to be more accepting, inclusive and supportive of people with mental health issues. We want people to have more empathy and we want people to seek help as early as possible.”

Read about Kai Xin Xing Dong