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An Interview with Sharlene Justo

Could you introduce yourself and how you are affiliated with the subject of mental health?

  • My name is SJ and an Associate Therapist at Alvarado Family Therapy providing individual and couples counseling with focuses on cultural and queer identity development and life transitions. I have experience working in K-12 schools in SEL (social emotional learning) and adults with severe mental health in a community mental health agency.

What are some challenges that you have faced as a queer Asian-American working in the mental health field?

  • Access to queer and affirming care through QTBIPOC providers or competent providers is one of the challenges that we experience in our healthcare system. I would also acknowledge the compounding oppressive systems of transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and patriarchy that contribute to limited access to trans liberative care. The Care We Dream Of: Liberatory and Transformative Approaches to LGBTQ+ Health by Zena Sharman offers vision and practice to what care can look like for QTBIPOC communities.

What are some words of encouragement that you would like to say to the youth who want to accomplish the same but are afraid of being denied because of their gender and/or sexual identity?

  • Find community that aligns with your values, interests, and identities! Your local GSA club on campus, community events, online groups/discord chats, and/or QTBIPOC/LGBTQ owned businesses/led spaces can be pockets of safety.


From your description on Psychology Today, I read that you’re a child of immigrants. What were some expectations that you grew up with, and how did this affect your mental health (either positively or negatively)?

  • As a child of refugees/immigrants, like many others, I was given the seeds to hope to achieve the "American Dream." The pressure to meet family expectations while honoring cultural collectivistic values in an individualistic world can make one feel inadequate, hopeless, and feel like you can't make space for your own authenticity. With the courage and sacrifices that our families made, it's important to remind ourselves that it is our families and ancestors wildest dreams for us, to not only become who we are meant to be, BUT TO REST! Rest and become in the ways they were and are still unable to. 


As Asian-Americans, from a young age, we are exposed to perfection, which further leads to mental health issues down the line. What are some ways that you think future generations could prevent this from occurring?

  • Oof, perfectionism is upheld by multilayered expectations from family, culture, society, and capitalism that we begin to internalize these expectations for ourselves to be true. Perfectionism is truly attainable with the understanding that nothing or no one is perfect. Reflection questions: What is that  we hope we will obtain once we achieve this idea of being/becoming "perfect?" and is being perfect the only way you can receive those things you desire? Who's expectations or ideas of perfect am I holding (family, society, etc.)? How do I celebrate myself when I am trying or learning something new? 


Also from your description on Psychology Today, I read that you have experiences working in a K-12 school. What were some aspects that you wish schools would take into consideration in the branch of mental health/illness?

  • I was active in the K-12 school system at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and there was an understanding of necessity for mental health support. I witnessed that funding and investment into mental health for students faded as the distance regulations were lifted. I continue to advocate for sustainable mental health support systems as it is the foundation of an individual's functioning and quality of life. Students spend a majority of their days in schools; what would student and community well being look like if we invested into social emotional learning (SEL), better access to accommodations and integration of learning styles/needs, gender neutral bathrooms, culturally responsive educators/adults, and creating community systems of care?


In recently published a survey analyzing mental health issues in my community, an astounding number of participants stated experiences such as alienation and outcasting. What are some ways you think the youth could use to cope if they feel trapped and alone?

  • Feeling alone and self isolation can be a way of protecting ourselves or coping with difficult things & looking/asking for support can be overwhelming. I would ask to reflect if there is a person or space that allows you to feel safe or comforted? What is about this person/place that offers safety/comfort? What would it be like if we could name these safety/comforts and ask for them? There can be a lot of approaches to getting support when feeling trapped and alone; however, when we recognize we desire for connection, how can experience or seek them in a way that is safe and comforting for us?

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