In 2020, the pandemic disrupted Naoki’s normal routines and restricted his connections to the outside world. Both his and his wife’s active lifestyles were replaced with working from home and being stuck inside, with growing feelings of frustration and anxiety about the future. Looking back on this period, Naoki says that “the psychological groundwork for a divorce was being built”.

woman with glasses talking with a middle aged man

When the marriage dissolved, Naoki started living alone. The difficult transition, compounded by the pandemic’s fallout, weighed on Naoki’s mental health. More and more frequently, he would be engulfed by strong negative emotions, eventually realizing that he could not continue to live this way. He shared, “I wouldn’t say I thought of suicide, but I knew I was depressed, and it would be difficult to continue on like this.” Luckily, through a friend, he heard about Little Tokyo Service Center’s mental health services provided in partnership with Keiro. With hope on the horizon, Naoki picked up the phone to inquire.

A few months later, Naoki had his first virtual session with an LTSC therapist. Together, Naoki and his therapist processed his experiences and built healthy coping strategies to navigate tough situations and emotions. Naoki recounted one particularly beneficial exercise that helped him visualize his personal relationships and closeness with important individuals in his life. In this exercise, he visually drew a double circle on a piece of paper, drawing himself in the middle circle, people he can trust in the outer circle, and people he can trust slightly outside both circles. He shared, “Thinking about and looking at my own situation helped me. It helped me think and put down what I see into words. Words became an element of psychological support. I went through that process many times.” Naoki attended sessions weekly for two years and now goes once every other week.

For Naoki, therapy not only provided emotional support, but also opportunities for socialization in an increasingly digital world. He added, “[During the pandemic] I didn’t have much opportunity to talk to people. Sometimes I wouldn’t talk to anyone for a week. At times like that, it was good to be able to talk to a therapist.”

The pandemic was a catalyst for many people like Naoki to seek mental health support, but mental health remains highly stigmatized in many Asian communities. Despite Naoki’s openness to starting therapy, he wasn’t always on board. A few years ago, when his former step child struggled with mental health issues, Naoki took a course from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) that provided a place for families facing similar difficulties to talk to each other. Despite the initial stigma he held, he said the course educated him and helped him gradually open up, becoming more aware and compassionate about mental health issues and treatment.

two people holding hands

Naoki willingly volunteered to share his mental health journey with others. He commented, “To be honest, I’m a bit concerned if what I’ve said so far is enough. It’s difficult to put into words how much therapy actually helps. However, I thought I might be able to tell a story that would be of some use to others. Personally, I want people to know that Keiro and LTSC are working on these kinds of initiatives.”

Naoki encourages people to reach out for support and remain open to services like therapy, especially for those struggling alone. He says, “Through my experience, I realized that our hearts have their weaknesses. I feel like it’s really easy for them to crumble and break,” and that being left alone when they are weak can lead to problems in the future. “I believe that if more people can actually recognize their own mental states and receive therapy, they will be able to prevent various future problems before they occur.” With inner strength and support from LTSC’s mental health services in partnership with Keiro, Naoki is moving forward from the dark days of the pandemic into a brighter, softer future.

Name was changed for privacy reasons.