PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — “Over 25% of Asian Americans experience mental health distress in their daily lives,” said Aaron Li, the co-founder of Project Lotus.

Li, a senior at Sunset High School, said mental health is often not talked about at all, especially with first-generation immigrants.

“There is a strong emphasis on being strong-willed, not having very many faults or showing them to others and I think a lot of people see mental health as a weakness,” he told KOIN 6 News.

He got the idea for Project Lotus after talking with friends about academic expectations and the stress that comes with that.

“There’s a lot of academic pressure. We saw us and a lot of our peers facing a lot of academic stress and some struggle with their mental health,” he said.

Project Lotus aims to destigmatize mental health by tackling the model minority stereotype — that Asian Americans are math whizzes or successful STEM or medical workers.

They host panels, mostly virtual, along with community blogs and podcasts to talk about different mental health care topics. It’s not just for kids. It’s also for parents.

“A lotus blooms out of the murkiest waters, and we thought of the murkiest water as the stigmatization of mental health in our communities.”

— Aaron Li

“Helping Asian American parents if their kids decide to come out, supporting them mentally, too,” Li said. “We also have some general mental health education that’s really focused on the parents side.”

Statistics show shame and stigma in Asian American communities lead to them being 3 times less likely to seek help.

Like the name of their non-profit, they want to help students beat the stats.

“One of the big things for us is a lotus blooms out of the murkiest waters, and we thought of the murkiest water as the stigmatization of mental health in our communities,” he said. “Different stereotypes, but now it’s time to blossom into a lotus and really achieve our full potential.”

Aaron Li recently won a Prudential Emerging Visionary Award, one of 25 from around the country. That award provided training last month for start-up non-profits.