A few weeks back, I was watching It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, a Korean drama that dealt with a number of mental health issues such as Antisocial Personality and Dissociative Identity Disorders. All was good until I stumbled upon the comment section, which housed a rather insensitive conversation around mental illness. I wasn’t surprised though, being an Asian myself, and that’s when I realized just how normalized the stigma around mental health is even in Asian American communities.
For many years, Asian Americans from a wide range of cultures have been considered the “model minority”. This misleading stereotype has come with many negative effects including the influx of the judgement from pressure around psychological conditions in the Asian community. Compared to other ethnic groups, Asian Americans are the least likely to seek proper intervention. As a matter of fact, suicide is the fifth leading cause of death among Asian Americans in any given year and yet the subject of mental health is not prioritized at all.Therefore, it’s about time we address the elephant in the room--aka mental health--and start working towards reducing the stigma around it for the sake of ourselves and future generations.
One of the reasons that Asian Americans have a higher suicide rate is the pressure to do well academically and equating “success” with a high income, not necessarily happiness. As shown in the novel The Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother, Asians take education very seriously and often resort to extreme measures to guarantee their children are all-rounded and great at everything they do. The pressure of becoming practically perfect coupled with a sense of loneliness and the insecurities of being a minority have oftentimes resulted in depression and anxiety among Asian adolescents. This could easily lead to suicide if proper intervention is not sought, which it usually is not because of the heightened stigma attached to mental health that make Asian youth hesitant to get treated.
So where does the stigma come from?
In Asian communities, social status is closely linked to familial respect, also known as filial piety in East Asia. Mental illness is often looked down upon with pity and dishonored in such societies because of the false idea of relating mentally ill patients with dangerous individuals when in reality the vast majority of mentally ill patients are no more likely to show violent behavior than anyone else. It all sums down to the fear of the unknown.
So what can we do to combat this?
As Asian-Americans, we can force the conversation around mental health in our households. It’ll be difficult, but worth it. We can also refuse to be tied to the model minority myth and stand up for ourselves when someone says something along the lines of, “Well of course you’d get good grades -- you’re Asian.” As a response, you could say something like, “No. I get good grades because I studied hard.” Lastly, it’s important to seek help if you really need it. Don’t let anyone invalidate your feelings. Therapy is expensive, sure, and if you’re a minor you’ll typically need a legal adult’s approval on paperwork and stuff. However, there are many resources, free first consultations, and advice forums online that could help. Make sure that everything you read is credible, though, because false information is one of the biggest consequences of the internet.
Your story matters.