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Friday August 19th

Panelists discuss importance of intersectionality in mental health at conference

Keynote speaker and clinical psychologist Dr. Ed Fisher speaks at the Intersectionality Mental Health Conference on Thursday, March 3, 2022.
Buy Photos Keynote speaker and clinical psychologist Dr. Ed Fisher speaks at the Intersectionality Mental Health Conference on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

When Yuyao Josefynick Huang was a 16-year-old student in Beijing, he founded the World Youth Mentality Alliance, a nonprofit organization that combines research, activism and peer counseling to provide mental health services.

After noticing the emphasis that his high school placed upon academic success and his classmates' resulting stress, Huang began to brainstorm ways to allocate resources from high schools in Beijing to make support more accessible.

“I’m from a really traditional high school, so a lot of times, we see people that are really stressed and anxious," Huang said. "In our culture, we often tie our performance to our own character."

Huang discussed his nonprofit organization at the Intersectionality and Mental Health Conference, hosted by the executive branch of the UNC Undergraduate Student Government on March 3.

WYMA seeks to help students navigate a variety of experiences and topics, from career ambitions and academic performance to gender identity and sexual orientation. Since the program launched in Chapel Hill last year, Huang said it has served around 280 clients.

In a process called PeerGuiding, WYMA combines counseling and coaching to provide a space where peers can share their thoughts and resources through open dialogue.

Huang emphasized that he prefers the term "mentality" over "mental health."

"I believe we should take care of our mentality, where I define as the strength of courage and resilience as life is hard," he said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel.

At the conference, Huang was joined by keynote speaker Edwin Fisher, a professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and a panel of student speakers to discuss a variety of mental health topics and the intersection between race, class, gender and other individual characteristics.

Fisher is the director of UNC's Peers for Progress organization, which promotes high quality, accessible peer support for students and staff while placing focus on intersectionality. He began the conference by presenting the interconnectedness between the conference's topics of intersectionality and mental health.

"By viewing intersectionality from an inside out, the multiple ways in which we experience the world needs to be reflected in how we try and deal with our problems," he said.

Fisher said that anyone can serve as a mental health supporter for their peers and that supporting others is not exclusive to individuals who share the same mental health struggles.

Another panelist at the conference was UNC senior Sonam Shah, who co-founded Peer2Peer, a student-run mental health organization.

She said the inspiration for Peer2Peer came from a lack of representation within mental health advocacy.

Shah spoke with other students and recognized that her feelings were shared. With the help of now-senior Toby Turla and alumnus Sage Atkins, she created Peer2Peer to advocate for the well-being of UNC community members through peer support.

At the conference, Shah shared the story of her upbringing as an Indian woman, and how her identity had an effect on her mental health during the peak of the pandemic. 

“I normalized this idea of what mental health was, which is something that we all suffer from but something that is supposed to be an individual experience,” Shah said.

Michael Zhang, a first-year studying public policy, discussed Asian American mental health intersectionality, focusing on external stereotypes, societal reinforcements through the media and other institutions, and the ramifications of internalizing Asian American stereotypes.

Zhang discussed the lotus blossom trope, a media theory that views Asian women as an object of male fascination. Productions like “Madama Butterfly” and “Miss Saigon” perpetuate this stereotype, he said.

“It’s very demonstrative that these stereotypes are continuously within our consciousness as a nation and even to the point that we are not entirely aware of it ourselves," Zhang said.

The conference also had speakers from Mi Pueblo, an organization that promotes awareness and support for Latinx culture, community and heritage across UNC. They discussed the role proper mental health has in the Latinx community, especially with individuals that face language barriers.

Through the Intersectionality and Mental Health Conference, Huang said he hoped to give attendees the courage to embrace themselves and seek help when they need it.

“Life gets hard and we need to kind of have this mentality where we need to address the struggle,” he said.

university@dailytarheel.com

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