Asking For Help In A System That Doesn’t Speak Your Language
It isn’t just stigma keeping elderly Asian immigrants from getting mental health care — it’s also the lack of facilities that understand their languages and cultures.
So Ying Chan came to the United States with her husband in 1976 to raise her two grandchildren, Jeff and Jessica Man. The children’s parents worked several jobs and were rarely home. Although she didn’t speak English (and would never learn to), she became fast friends with all the neighborhood Chinese grandmothers. Chan entertained her grandchildren by taking them to all the cheap haunts near Washington, D.C. — the National Zoo, McDonald’s, and the neighborhood grocery store.
Then in 1992, Chan’s husband became ill and died. Without her one real companion in a country that was foreign to her, Chan fell into a deep depression. She told family members repeatedly that she wished she were dead. As the years passed, she developed Alzheimer’s and her behavior grew even more erratic. Her grandson remembers her ambling out to meet his friends whenever they drove up to the house and staring into their car window wordlessly.
The family grew increasingly worried for Chan’s safety. They would come home to find that Chan had left the stove on and forgot, or that she had wandered out into the city and got lost coming home — once, they had to call the police to bring her back. Finally, in order to have someone watch over her, they enrolled her in a nursing home in Gaithersburg, Maryland. That turned out to be a mistake.
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