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Cross-Cultural Wellness: SM Working with Mass General

Cross-Cultural Wellness: SM Working with Mass General
Mallory Munro

2020-2021 marks the beginning of St. Mark's third year working in partnership with the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Cross-Cultural Student Emotional Wellness (CCCSEW), as part of the School's commitment to Global Citizenship and the well-being of its Asian international students.

Founded in 2014, this MGH program recognizes a tremendous need to support the emotional health of students from Asia and of Asian descent. Practicing mental health clinicians at MGH noticed increasing referrals of Asian and Asian-American students for problems like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. As bicultural individuals themselves, with perspectives informed by a wide range of experiences including clinical work with adolescents from a variety of backgrounds, public health training, and parenthood, these doctors agreed that the solution to these problems lay not in increased mental health treatment, but rather in early recognition, education, and primary prevention.

Click here to learn about the MGH program.

Shortly after the MGH CCCSEW s was established, Adria Pavletic, director of health services at St. Mark's, read an article by the program's co-founder, Dr. Justin Chen, and reached out to him. As a result, St. Mark's became one of the original consortium members collaborating with the MGH Center. MGH professionals have been to St. Mark's, offering both professional development workshops for faculty and presentations to international families on Family Weekend.

Several members of the St. Mark's adult community are active in the consortium. Ms Pavletic (director of health services), Dr. Laura Appell-Warren (director of global citizenship), John Daves (director of community and equity affairs), Starry Zhu (assistant director of community and equity affairs), Jennifer Taylor (director of counseling services), and school counselor Veronica Barila participate in monthly Consortium meetings. Each meeting includes a presentation by a member of the faculty from the CCCSEW as well as discussions with representatives from other member schools. The topics for the meetings this year include: racial bias among international students; Stigma and xenophobia in the setting of COVID-19; traditional East Asian understanding of health and wellness; promoting cultural competency; and cross-cultural manifestations of stress, anxiety and depression.

Dr. Warren finds the program extremely helpful. "Their presentations are all based on both their own lived experience as practitioners, as well as on the data they have collected for their own research," she says.

The stresses faced by students at competitive secondary schools, colleges, and universities can be enormous, and can be magnified among individuals whose cultural backgrounds make it difficult to integrate easily into U.S. educational and social systems, who struggle to establish social networks with their non-Asian boarding school peers, and who bring different cultural values and practices to campus. Meanwhile, educational institutions can struggle with the challenge of providing timely, sufficient, and culturally responsive support to these students. The CCCSEW has partnered itself with local and regional stakeholders to tackle these complex challenges and improve the lives of diverse student populations.

"It has been wonderful to partner with the clinicians and educators at MGH," says Ms. Taylor. "They remind us how critical it is to look at mental health issues through the cultural lens of the Asian and Asian American student experience. Their consultation, workshops and time on campus with our faculty has been invaluable as we continue to engage with our international students and families."

Recently, the MGH Center shared some relevant work regarding ant-Asian racism and COVID as well as other mental health issues. The COVID-19 Pandemic has uncovered racist and xenophobic views towards Asians and Asian-Americans, resulting in a dramatic increase in verbal harassment and physical assaults against these groups. The pandemic has caused massive disruptions for nearly everyone in the world, including negative health and economic effects, and a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about the future. How to address both the racism and its impact on students and families has been central to the most recent consortium discussions, and health services, community/equity, and global citizenship will be sharing this material with the School community.

See below for some of this material. Translations are available in Chinese, Japanese. Korean and Vietnamese.

"I have been impressed with how relevant the topics are to what we as schools are experiencing," says Dr Warren, "and how readily the CCCSEW faculty respond to issues that we are seeing at our schools."

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