How one organization combines mental health with mentoring for AAPI youth

CHINATOWN, Manhattan (WABC) — Despite some stereotypes that all Asian students get through school with ease, they can face the same challenges as any other group, including fears of trying to be perfect.

Miki Lin, 16, was born and raised in Chinatown – it’s her home but she avoids going outside.

“Whenever I go outside, it’s like this feeling of despair. I just see a bunch of people, a whole bunch of cars. I don’t know what will happen,” Lin said.

She is trapped in her apartment and at the mercy of her fear.

“My family doesn’t really understand mental health and dismissed it. For me, it’s one thing that upsets my family. It’s one thing that troubles my family when I have anxiety attacks,” Lin added.

Lin also comes from a humble background.

“I recently found out that Applebees don’t seem to be anything special,” she says, “I had memories of going to the sweatshop with my mom.”

Lin is far from alone. There are more than 180,000 AAPI students in New York City public schools. According to the mayor’s office, more than 21 percent of them live in poverty. That is more than one in five. Almost half of them live in households with adults who do not speak good English.
The leading cause of death among AAPI youth aged 5 to 19 is suicide.

“I think the myth of the exemplary minorities causes a lot of problems for our youth. So if they don’t get into a specialty high school, that’s a failure. If they don’t get into a respectable college, that’s a failure,” said Ivy Li, associate director of mental health at Apex For Youth.

Apex For Youth is an organization that combines mental health and mentoring to support AAPI youth.

Li says the myth of the exemplary minority makes teenagers like Miki Lin question their worth.

However, with the support of Apex for Youth, the teenager found a mentor and friend.

“She’s built a lot of confidence in the way she talks about herself — almost like a little leader, where she helps start the conversation when nobody’s putting their hand up to speak,” Eileen Jen said.

“At Apex, when I’m nervous, when I’m struggling, they don’t see that I’m doing anything wrong — it feels like family,” Lin said.

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