A conversation with Tina Chen

5th December 2023
Hayley Cook and Tina Chen sat on a tree trunk in Victoria Park, Portsmouth

Tina Chen moved to the UK from China to study at the University of Portsmouth but struggled with her mental health. She talks to Hayley Cook about her mental health journey and the cultural stigma that’s associated with talking about mental health in China. Tina is now a Diversity and Inclusion Outreach Worker at Solent Mind.

Tell us about your first experiences of struggling with mental health?

That was a couple of years back when I was starting out at university.

I was far away from my parents and family back in China, and all of a sudden I felt really isolated and struggling to live in a foreign country on my own and have to adapt to cultural differences.

Having a high expectation for my family to do well in my studies at a university.

All in all just I felt really disconnected and just very lost in my life.

And had you ever felt like that before?

Yes and no. Back at home when I was in China, I had a group of close friends who I could turn to ask for support, but it was always the tricky one with my parents because they expected me to do well in my life.

So I would rather chose to talk to my close friends when I was in China and when I first came to the UK for my studies and it was all on my own and it was really challenging.

What sort of things put you off reaching out for help initially?

I did not know what mental health was.

What I have been struggling with in terms of mental health conditions, because back home in China we did not openly discussing about mental health or mental health support and culturally it’s considered a taboo subject and we would not talk about mental health or mental health conditions openly with our friends or family.

So back then I didn’t know where to seek support, was it whether to talk to my GP or look for any available mental health support information online, from a university website.

It was really confusing to me.

How long ago was that?

That was about six years ago.

But then I spend one year to really decide whether I should get access to mental health support because I didn’t want my course mates or my personal tutor to find out that I was struggling with my mental health conditions or even openly spoke to my parents about what I have been through.

So it was about a year after that I finally made up my mind to step forward and ask for support from my GP, as well as spoke to my personal tutor about what I have been through.

And what happened when you did reach out?

It was quite nerve wracking. I have not used any mental support in my past. She gave me the options of taking medicine and trying out the talking therapies.

How do you feel now?

I continue receiving mental health support through counselling, which I found it really helpful to my mental health recovery journey.

I get to learn to live with my mental health conditions.

Also speak to my counsellor about the ups and downs that happened to me in my life.

What do you do to manage your mental health now?

So on the one hand I continue on my counselling journey, which did help me to realise that this is who I am and I’m able to live my own life and being who I am.

And also I have kept 11 house plants in my place, which I love them, and it really keeps me busy just to look after my houseplants and also through my work. I like talking to people who also struggle with their mental health conditions.

And I think that’s that’s a way of like supporting each other and openly discussing what we have been through and full in the power that we could live our lives.

And it’s part of mental health recovery journey.

What advice would you give to someone who’s struggling with their mental health, they’re not quite sure what to do. What would you say to them?

Firstly, I think it’s important to realise that it’s part of our life and we’re all human and it’s normal to feel disconnected or to struggle with our mental health at some point in our life.

So do not feel ashamed to know that this is part of our life and also do not suffer in silence.

It’s important that if you are able to openly discuss what you have been through with your friends or family if you can. That’s very important.

If you are coming from a cultural background and don’t feel comfortable enough to share this with your family and friends, do seek out support from a mental health professionals or somebody who you feel like would be giving you support and advice in a way to make sure that you don’t feel alone.

Also do not feel discouraged if you take some time to find the right support for yourself. For me, it did take about a few attempts to find out which support works for myself.

Persistence is key to your mental health recovery journey.