October 10th marks World Mental Health Day, a global event that provides an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. On this occasion, CandleX talked to Radio Beijing International's FM Lifestyle, Gial, about the organization's work in Oct 2020.
You can listen to the playback here, or click on “read more”
After noting that this has been an incredibly tough year for people's mental health due to the coronavirus pandemic, radio host Gail Zohar let CandleX's founder Xiaojie introduce what CandleX is and the programs available to the international community of Beijing.
CandleX has been providing education for teens and their parents on mental health since 2015. This year's highlight was encouraging teenagers to take the initiative—to participate in the projects while brainstorming and implementing programs.
As part of the teen program, CandleX launched an online teen writer's club in early 2020. The club serves as a way for teenagers to share their personal struggles through storytelling. Teens are not so open about sharing their feelings and vulnerabilities with other people because they often feel afraid and insecure at this development stage, particularly those of Asian descent. Writing can be a source of comfort for them.
The uncertainty of the pandemic was the largest obstacle that CandleX faced when launching this initiative. After two months with limited activity at the onset of Covid, the organization brought the program online, and the experience has been positive so far.
The personal stories of some of the teenagers that took part in the writing program were also shared in the show. Among them were students studying abroad who felt guilty for the money their parents were spending on their education and who experienced the loneliness and the culture shock of living in a foreign environment. Adolescents coming from East Asian cultures are more reluctant to look for support in their families, as they tend to value the group's needs more than their own, so they do not want to make their families worry about them.
The writing group participated in an open letter initiative, where teenagers voluntarily shared their feelings and burdens in the form of writings. The open letter initiative became a way for teens to bridge the gap between themselves and their families. One participant, a Chinese girl, studying at an international school in Beijing, struggled with her parent's busy schedule and lack of quality time together. This girl wrote an open letter to her parents, where she told them about how she wanted them to spend more time with her instead of working so hard to give her a good education, among other things.
Another powerful story was Allison’s—another participant in the teenagers and young adults' writing program. She decided to join the program because she had recovered from a mental issue herself and wanted to connect with other teens to share their stress, hoping to provide a space where everybody felt accepted. Her hope is that this program would offer background on mental illnesses, including debunking myths, normalizing mental illnesses, and teaching different coping skills.
Dr. Theo Cope, head of the mental health department at Raffles International Medical Center in Beijing, highlighted the unique problems that this pandemic has had on teens, stating the pandemic has upended everybody's lives and the routines that teenagers had adopted and adapted to have been compromised. Teenagers have needed more support than ever – from each other, from their families, and also from professionals.
Dr. Cope also said that the teenagers in international schools that he has worked with have had their life plans altered. "They did not get their senior year or graduation ceremonies, nor did they go abroad as they expected—this has been a source of stress that has challenged their capability and imagination", he said.
"Teenagers usually have to deal with low self-esteem, body image and self-harming, and question the meaning of life and philosophical questions they don't have their parents to talk to. Depression, anxiety, relationships with parents, and dating are also common issues", he added.
Reactions to the writing program among teenagers have been diverse. CandleX kicked off the teens' writing group with the primary goal of letting teenagers write their articles to express themselves, but Xiaojie described it as a "seed that has grown into a tree with different branches", as participants brought other teens into the program.
CandleX's parents workshops run alongside the writing initiative and aims at educating parents about how to help their teenage children with mental issues. "East Asian parents tend to be more overprotective than their Western counterparts and often lack the tools or the willingness to talk to their children", Xiaojie said. Therefore, raising awareness about parents' mental health is a meaningful way to help teenagers in their struggles.
Another pilot program, Teens’ learning Group, is still in its infancy and improving continually since July this year. The hope is to give it a solid foundation shortly. The most crucial step to achieve this is to empower enough teenagers to participate in this program.
One of the positive things that this year has brought us, she concluded, is that taking CandleX’s activity online has allowed the organization to expand to other parts of China and the world. It has also stressed the importance of keeping in touch with the community, sharing, and communicating.