British Columbia

Racial trauma counsellors in B.C. see surge in patients amid ongoing anti-Asian hate

Two racial trauma therapists in Vancouver, B.C., say they've noticed an increase in Asian Canadian patients seeking mental health support since the surge in anti-Asian attacks. Vancouver police said anti-Asian hate crimes increased over 700 per cent in 2020.

'I noticed a tenfold increase in my caseload,' says racial trauma therapist Linda Lin

About 500 people were at the Vancouver Art Gallery on March 28 to protest against anti-Asian hate. The sharp rise in anti-Asian hate crimes since the pandemic has many Asian Canadians seeking mental health support, says a racial trauma therapist. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Ever since the Atlanta spa shootings on March 16 that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, Angela Leong stopped walking to and from work because she was too scared to be out in public.

"Quite frankly, I'm scared." Leong said. "I'm not comfortable with walking down the streets, so I started taking Uber exclusively just to go back and forth to my office."

Leong, a registered clinical counsellor in Vancouver, says some of her Asian Canadian clients have been echoing the same fears and have stopped visiting the office after sunset. She said since the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in both in the United States and Canada, she's seen an increase in patients experiencing racial trauma.

According to a report released in March by the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) Toronto chapter, there were more than 1,000 cases of both verbal and physical attacks against Asians across the country from March 2020 to February 2021. And since the start of the pandemic, Canada had more anti-Asian racism reports per capita than the United States.

In February, Vancouver police said they saw anti-Asian hate crimes jump by more than 700 per cent in 2020 as reports of incidents rose from 12 in 2019 to 98 in 2020.

Linda Lin, a registered clinical counsellor who focuses on racial identity and trauma, says she's also seen a spike in people who are seeking mental health support.

"I noticed a tenfold increase in my caseload," said Lin. "They are clients who are coming to talk about ... past experiences of racialized verbal abuse or incidents linked with COVID-19."

Racial trauma therapist Linda Lin said she also remembers the challenges of growing up with a different culture in a predominately white neighbourhood. (Submitted by Linda Lin)

She said racial trauma can stem from feelings of being marginalized while growing up in Canada or from feeling discriminated against because of ethnicity or race.

Leong said in the past two weeks, 66 to 75 per cent of her clients were from the Asian community, whereas just eight weeks before the shooting in Atlanta, only 35 to 52 per cent of her clients were Asian. 

"My patients have been telling me ... there has always been aggressive behaviour as a result of their race or ethnicity," she said.

Triggering events

Co-founder of the Asian Canadian Women's Alliance and former journalist Jan Wong said the recent increase in anti-Asian hate is bringing back memories of her own experience of racism, which triggered a severe clinical depression.

In 2006, she said she received an onslaught of racist messages and attacks against her family's Chinese restaurant after a story she published in the local paper.

"I noticed people in Quebec started ... saying that we were serving cat and dog and rats and that we were dirty," Wong told Canada Tonight host Ginella Massa.

"In fact the restaurant had to close."

Jan Wong says hearing about the recent surge in anti-Asian hate crimes is bringing back memories of the racist attacks she and her family experienced in 2006. (Submitted by Jan Wong)

She said hearing about the frequent racist attacks against members of the Asian community is having a negative impact on her.

"I have raised cortisone levels because of this, and if you have chronically raised cortisone, you can end up in depression," Wong said. "It makes me really angry."

Need for education

Rage and anger are common signs of racial trauma, according to Lin, as individuals who have been victims of racial abuse and violence often feel silenced and invalidated.

"I'm hearing stories of discrimination ... and people are hoping to be seen and heard and hoping to be respected," Lin said. "I'm also noticing people trying to protest not just for their own story of racial trauma but for their parents and their community as well."

Queenie Choo, CEO of United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society (S.U.C.C.E.S.S.), says she's not surprised to hear that there has been an increase in Asian Canadians seeking mental health support.

She said in January 2021, the organization received over 400 calls through its help line, which provides counselling services in Mandarin and Cantonese.

S.U.C.C.E.S.S. CEO Queenie Choo says that in January 2021, the organization received over 400 calls through its help line. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"People feel that they are in such a vulnerable situation where they could be subject to attacks, whether that's physical, mental or emotional ... and I think that is all very negative to people's mental health," Choo said.

What the government is doing

When asked about federal efforts to combat anti-Asian racism, the Canadian Heritage department said in an emailed statement that the government set up an anti-racism secretariat in March 2020 and is "engaging on a regular basis with pan-Asian networks of community organizations" to discuss how it can be more effective in countering anti-Asian racism.

As part of a four-year anti-racism strategy announced in 2019, it has committed $15 million to 85 projects to combat racism and discrimination, it said, including anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

It has also created a Centre on Diversity and Inclusion at the Treasury Board secretariat and invested in more disaggregated data, the statement said.  

The statement also said the government is redoubling its efforts when it comes to:

  • Taking action on online hate.
  • Advancing economic empowerment opportunities for specific communities.
  • Building a whole-of-federal-government approach on better collection of disaggregated data.
  • Implementing an action plan to increase diverse representation in hiring, appointments and leadership development within the public service.

"There is more work to do," the statement said. "However, our government will continue to condemn all forms of racism and take concrete steps to confront anti-Asian racism and discrimination in all its forms." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christina Jung is a digital reporter and senior writer for CBC. Got a story idea? Email christina.jung@cbc.ca or tweet @CBC_Cjung

With files from Canada Tonight

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