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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Stigma of Mental Health Amongst Asians Is Alive & Real, So Why Deny It?

**updated**: it had been reported that on the same day I had published this post, 17 -year- old Luchang Wang, a student at Yale's Silliman college took her own life & died from an apparent suicide. My condolences go to her family and to Silliman College. 

From the age of 17 until I was in my mid-20s, I had a brief period where I became depressed and unhappy with life. With that, I did some stupid things, met people in college, whose behaviour and attitudes towards me made me upset and depressed. It was an unhappy time for me, though I hated high school the most. I had negative feelings and thoughts, but I didn't speak out about them in class. Instead, I reserved those for when I saw the Councillor at college, and boy did it do me a world of good. 

I would visit the Councillor once a week to discuss my feelings. 

I spoke about how I was depressed and sad, what I was thinking and how it made me upset, and the Councillor gave me some advice to help me overcome the problem. And to this day, I am thankful to them for that, because that was when I had trust in them, knowing it would be strictly confidential and that s/he wouldn't tell anyone else about my feelings, unless I wanted them to. 

I didn't want to keep my feelings bottled up any longer; I realized that by talking about them, would make things better, which it did. 

Source: Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) from Grey's Anatomy 

I was raised and brought up in an community where if you tried to discuss mental health issues and depression with family and other members of the Asian community, they would look down on you and say you brought this on yourself. 

You see, in Chinese families, and other Asian families, admitting you have a problem, is forbidden - and if you try and do so, you are either laughed at, or get shouted by your parents. In their own repressed world, there is no such thing as depression happening, at all. It is seen as a sign of weakness and that by admitting you have a problem, you are setting yourself up in bringing shame to your 'culture', which is sad but true. 

The very notion that Asians do not experience mental health problems like everyone else, brought on by this model minority myth is not only incredulous; in addition, it is equally damaging and harmful. 

These mental health problems that Asians face are linked to external racism, identity issues, immigration, assimilation, having to live up to high standards and expectations and parental and family pressure. 

Ah yes, Asians must be so successful, so diligent and intelligent, so hard-working that there is no real need to widen access to mental health services, because it is falsely implied that because Asians do so well in education, study hard, get jobs in business, work in the medical profession, running a take-away service and not be seen on TV and movies as positive media representations of Asians; we do not experience problems and have no problems to contend with. So therefore, to them, mental health services are limited to mainly Blacks, African - Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics. 

Mental health services are available and open to everyone; it's just that Asians do not , or be it choose not to take advantage of them for their own good. 

This image that Asians do not experience problems, is all a lie and a smokescreen used in covering up and avoiding the problem of mental health and suicide and tackling it, head on. 

I'll probably be accused by some people for using Luchang Wang's death as a statistic, but facts are facts and it seems these are the same people, who want to avoid addressing this problem, as to why more wasn't done to prevent young Asians from ending their life. 

Asians and Asian Americans experience high rates of suicide (according to the American Psychological Association, in 2007, Asian- American college students had a higher rate of suicidal thoughts than that of Caucasian college students); between the ages of 65 and 84, Asian- American women had the highest suicide rate, compared to Caucasian, Latino, Black women, and yet regardless, we are in denial. We ought to expose ourselves to the public to say we are not perfect, and that our community is having problems and needs help too. 

The real problem is that mental health is associated with Whites, more-so than with Blacks, African-Americans, Asians and Asian Americans; Blacks, African-Americans, especially African American women and Asian Americans are perceived to be strong-minded, confident, self-reliant. Because of that, it is believed that you can't display any signs of insecurities and worries. That everything has to be so positive people won't see through it & point out its flaws. 

So when a Black or Asian woman commits suicide or tries to kill themselves, our communities shrug it off and act like it didn't happen. 

Eating disorders, depression, body issues, lack of confidence, bi-polar, alcohol and drug addiction are not associated with Asians and Asian Americans. And yet Asians endure these exact problems, or of whom are unaware they have these problems. We have Asian doctors and psychiatrists, yes.... Asians who have depression, bi-polar disorder, do coke and drugs, well, screw them. That's not what i'd say, but that is an image that many elder Asians and Asian Americans would accept. 

It all starts like I said by admitting our community has a real problem, and after that comes the humanization, empathizing and listening to and be attentive to his/her needs. 

I believe that the longer Asians and in particular Asian parents continue to dismiss the idea that mental health doesn't happen to our community, the more Asians, especially young Asians and Asian Americans will resort to committing suicide and ending their lives. 

Chi-Kit Ho, a social worker once said many Chinese families don't talk to their children about their problems and helping them overcome them. & that is true. You suppress your feelings and emotions, but you do not talk about them, to anyone, you don't do anything. You do nothing. Not even seek counselling.   It is saying that being depressed or having negative thoughts is your own fault. You stop moaning and get on with life. 

But is it that so simple and straightforward? No, because you're allowing those thoughts to manifest and letting it destroy you, emotionally. & not if you're faced with having to live up to a model (minority) stereotype and having to be a certain type of person by your parents. These Asian parents fear that if their son or daughter displays or shows any mental health worries, it will reflect badly on them, as well as it would -in their eyes - tarnish their entire family and their own culture.

This type of thinking, as I said earlier is harmful and deeply troubling and does the Asian community no favours, whatsoever. 

The Asian community needs to stop boosting about how self-righteous we are, that we are the superior race in society. We need to dispel the model minority myth amongst other things. There is nothing to be ashamed of by admitting that one is suffering from or has depression. In doing so, you are opening yourselves up for people to assist you in helping you get the help you need, in combating this problem. 

And more importantly, you are in a better and healthier frame of mind. 

Image source: Tie A Yellow Ribbon, a PBS presentation via Angry Asian Man and APALA


  1. Hello. The last image on this post was created by me. I would appreciate it if the image were removed altogether from the post, or at least the source of the image should be given in the post to give it the context in which I intended. Source:

  2. to Frances, i just changed the image and credited the other person for it. cheers. Waiching


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