Vancouver start-up hopes to promote self-care, fight stigma with ‘Asian-conscious’ wellness platform

It’s important to have culturally sensitive options when it comes to mental and emotional health. Ria Renouf hears from a Vancouver company trying to turn certain cultural taboos into talking about and getting help.

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VANCOUVER (CityNews) — The founders of Holistic Panda, a Vancouver start-up billed as an ‘Asian-conscious wellness platform’, understand that asking for help can be taboo, and want to help give people the resources and the permission to pursue self-care.

The site connects people to reiki healing, life coaches, nutritionists, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, or other alternative therapies.

Co-founder Janet Lam, says her own pursuit of wellness after she got burnt out grinding away at a corporate job is what inspired her.

“I got in touch with a lot of holistic therapies that really helped me, I really wanted to share this,” she explains.

“I’m sure a lot of people who are in the wellness space, therapy has helped them in a way to better their lives. We each have our own personal stories.”

Realizing you are not okay, and wanting to find help is often where those stories begin. But Lam says talking about those issues is universally fraught — and it’s hard to figure out what to do if you can’t talk about it.

“We’re hoping that we can make the process to find wellness services easy and accessible because we understand stigma around mental health is actually quite common it’s a shared of human experience,” she explains.

But, Lam explains, it’s harder in some communities and cultures than in others.

“We understand that this is particularly common for the Asian community. So we really want to build a platform to make it easy for them to normalize the practice of self-care,” she says.

“Being born and raised in an Asian family, it’s sometimes a bit taboo to talk about mental health, especially because our parents are immigrants and they believe that you have to work very hard. So, if you say ‘I’m tired,’ that translates to ‘weak’ or something ‘wrong.’ I love my parents but I think that as a second-generation in North America, we have a lot more choices, and we should take care of our health and, you know, treat ourselves better.”

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If someone can’t turn to family or friends, or just isn’t comfortable, then Lam says they will likely go online to try to find support.

“A lot of time it is very intimate or maybe a sensitive issue, and they might not be comfortable talking about it to their friends or families. But then if they want to seek help, where do they find help?” she says.

“I think the best way to find a therapist or someone to help is from a review or word of mouth. But if you’re afraid to ask in the first place, it’s not possible to get the review. That’s why we built a platform. It’s especially hard to find platforms that can help the Asian community, so we wanted to contribute to that.”

A user of Holistic panda can type in a phrase that best describes what they need help with, like “anxiety” or “back pain.” Then, a list of practitioners is generated, and each offers a free 15-minute consult. The idea of “Asian conscious doesn’t mean that all the therapies or practitioners are literally from Asia.

“About 30% of our practitioners are of Asian ethnicity, but we also have other ethnicities as well. We have practitioners from Hong Kong, New York, Toronto, Vancouver,” Lam explains.

“We do ask that they be mindful of cultural competency; it’s more like respecting others’ culture. Not just the language. It’s about respecting and understanding.”

Lam hopes that, especially with the racism toward Asian people during the COVID-19 pandemic, that people are addressing their emotions.

“It’s been very tough, especially on our mental health, and unfortunately, with all the anti-Asian racism going on and all the stories I’ve heard. That’s why I think the platform, we’d really want people to come and use it, to utilize it.”

The hope is to get users to leave reviews, and to expand the platform by developing an app that allows users to keep track of their moods, and routines along with tips on how to remedy day-to-day issues.

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