Support Group for Asian Americans Uses Theater to Cope With COVID

Megan Brooks

May 07, 2021

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An online, culturally based peer support group that uses theater and other creative outlets is helping Asian Americans cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, new research shows.

The findings of the qualitative study suggest that the program could be a model to support the mental health of other minority community groups during the COVID pandemic and beyond, say investigators from the Yale University School of Medicine Child Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut.

The Yale Compassionate Home, Action Together (CHATogether) group was created to promote emotional wellness among Asian American youth, young adults, and their families.

Early in the pandemic, it expanded its purpose to serve as a COVID-19 support group. Through social media outreach, CHATogether encourages members to cope with COVID-19 by using productive and creative outlets.

Dr Eunice Yuen

"We are a community education program serving Asian American families," said Eunice Yuen, MD, PhD, the program's founder and director, who is with the Yale University School of Medicine Child Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut.

"We started when the pandemic began, and we realized the unique emotional distress shared among Asian American families, such as family conflict and xenophobic attacks," said Yuen.

She discussed the program at the virtual American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2021 Annual Meeting.

Skits, Role Playing

CHATogether groups consist of people with similar experiences and challenges who support each other through weekly online group meetings, she explained.

Group members work together to create family conflict scenarios and role-play dialogues on topics amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as cross-cultural challenges among Asian Americans, academic expectations in home schooling, and Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ conflicts within Asian families.

Group members create skits that are based on their personal experiences and that allow them to work through their own internal conflicts and gain a sense of agency, said Yuen.

"CHATogether is really the interface of mental health, art, and theater, and we're trying to create a vehicle that can be a lighthearted way for people to talk about mental health, especially for Asian American families," said Yuen.

Preliminary results from a focus group with 10 CHATogether members who joined the program since the pandemic started identified four major ways in which the program has had a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of participants:

  • It provides a safe and supportive environment, strengthens bonds between members, and increases the sense of belonging, thus encouraging engagement.

  • It provides structural consistency/stability through regular meetings and consistent group functions. Weekly meetings provide a sense of control and hope in the midst of uncertainty during periods of sheltering in place.

  • Through adapting the group to virtual platforms, group members experience the inherent strengths of a growth mindset and cognitive flexibility when facing challenges.

  • It supports healthy coping skills through sublimation and altruism.

Looking ahead, Yuen said, the team plans to investigate the validity and effectiveness of this model and to expand the group to include other minorities, school educators, and medical education for trainees and medical students.

Commenting on the program, briefing moderator Jeffrey Borenstein, MD, president and CEO of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and editor-in-chief of Psychiatric News, described the initiative as a "great project that serves as a model that can be used not only for Asian Americans but for other groups.

"I think the key to it is that cultural sensitivity that we need to really take into account and cultural differences among people in order to best engage them and help support them. I think this program does that beautifully," said Borenstein.

The work was supported by the APA's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Minority Fellowship, which provides a 1-year fellowship to psychiatry residents committed to addressing minority psychiatric mental health issues. Yuen and Borenstein have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2021 Annual Meeting: Presented May 1, 2021.

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