Watch CBS News

Bay Area family touched by tragedy promotes mental health care for Asian Americans

Family touched by tragedy promotes mental health care for Asian Americans
Family touched by tragedy promotes mental health care for Asian Americans 03:30

HILLSBOROUGH -- Studies show Asian Americans are less likely to seek mental health care than any other ethnicity, but one AAPI family in San Mateo County has made it their mission to change that. 

Once a month Nancy Lee and her family set the table at their home in Hillsborough, California for a special dinner.

It's not a birthday or a holiday, but a new tradition that started after a tragedy that changed their lives forever.

"It's just kind of relaxing," Lee said. "You just focus on the food and I'm not thinking of anything else."

Three years ago, Lee's husband, Joseph, was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. The news came just weeks after his own father passed away, all this as the couple was in the middle of a divorce. In March 2020, Joseph took his own life. Nancy never saw it coming.

"I think all of those things kind of added up," Lee said.

Making matters worse, because of the pandemic, there was no funeral and few people to talk to. But even if there were, Lee said, she struggled to find the words.

"I was just telling people he passed away. I didn't say how," she said.

Growing up in a traditional Chinese household, Lee said she was taught not to complain and just carry on.

"You just don't talk about your hardships so much," she explained. "You just kind of keep yourself down and you keep working and you do your thing."

Her daughter Charlotte says she too kept her father's suicide a secret.

"I think stigma around mental health mostly stems from people wanting to act like everything is OK," she said.  

According to a recent study, less than 9% of Asian-Americans sought any type of mental health services, about half that of the general population.    

Which is why a year ago, Charlotte decided to very publicly break her silence by making a short documentary about mental health called, "It's Time We Talk About It."   

"If you don't have an open communication with family members then you're going to have to go through all of that by yourself," she said.

These days, Nancy, Charlotte and her brother Daniel get together with their extended family at least once a month, where they can check up on each other and discuss whatever's on their mind.

"We've gotten so much closer," Charlotte said. "My mom and I have become best friends through all of this." 

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, you can get help from the suicide and crisis lifeline by calling or texting 9-8-8.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.