Note: This isn’t a generalization that ALL Asian parents are not capable of being understanding about mental illness. However, this is a cultural issue that affects a large proportion of the Asian community (from what we know, the numbers may be even larger due to lack of study and underreporting).
“Why are you depressed? What do you have to be depressed about? You don’t have to worry about anything. Just relax.” If you’ve opened up about your anxiety or depression to your Asian parents, you may have heard one or all of these before. Traditional Asian parents aren’t always known to be the most open-minded or empathetic individuals. Explaining your mental illness and getting shut down or berated for being “lazy” is definitely not good for your well-being. Living with mental illness in an Asian household is difficult, so here’s a look into factors surrounding Asian mental health as well as tips to cope with your current living situation.
Asian Culture and Mental Health
Discussing mental health in Asian culture is often a taboo topic. Merely bringing up that you’re suffering from depression or anxiety can provoke a negative response from your family. Your problems may be dismissed, minimalized, or even mocked. This can create a feedback loop where the suffering individual then refuses to open-up about their problems in the future. Asian Americans report the least amount of mental health issues, yet are also less likely to seek social support in response to stressors. Harboring these negative feelings and coping with it alone only brings more stress to the individual. Often, this is the only way people with mental health issues feel that they can cope in their household. Disclosing their issues would only bring them more trouble, but at the same time, not having that network of support makes coping harder.
Asian culture leans toward a collectivist society, where the community, not the individual is prioritized. When the needs of the group are the priority, the individual feels pressure to not burden the whole collective. Additionally, Asian collectivist societies can also trigger social strain rooted in obligation, expectations, and norms of reciprocity. Asian cultures can play largely into the idea of “saving face”, where a certain image is projected to the world and is strictly enforced. This can place tremendous pressure on an individual with mental health issues, where you are told to bury your burdens instead of seeking support.
The lack of open discourse on Asian mental health has created an environment where it can be difficult to communicate one’s issues and receive treatment. In a study, Asian Americans were found to be less likely to seek professional help for psychological distress, and were less likely to self-disclose suicidal thoughts (Morrison & Downey, 2000). According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek treatment for their mental illness. This difficulty in seeking treatment is unsustainable and dangerous to the lives of many Asian Americans. It simply doesn’t come down to saving face when lives are at risk. The continual downplaying of mental health in Asian culture only pushes the negative feelings inward, creating ticking time bombs. While changes are being made, there is still so much to be done for Asian mental health.
Living With Anxiety/Depression in Your Asian Household
1. Get professional help.
Finding a licensed professional that you can trust can help you so much with communicating and working on your mental health. Remember that you don’t have to accept the first, or second, or third option. Really focus on finding someone you feel comfortable with (this part is huge). With the internet, it has gotten much easier to find a licensed professional and you can even have sessions online.
Hint: the Anxiety and Depression Association of America makes it quite easy:
Also check out Open Path Collective, for affordable and inclusive counseling options:
2. Accept that your parents might not see eye-to-eye despite your efforts.
Even if you do your best to communicate what you’re going through, it’s possible that your parents still won’t be able to empathize. You can’t control how others will react and traditional mindsets can be firm in their beliefs. It might be a tough pill to swallow, but knowing it is out of your hands can alleviate the pressure of making others understand your experiences.
3. Open up to people you can trust.
Life’s hard enough as is. But it’s like turning the difficulty down a few notches when you have a support network, be it your friends, family, or pets. Life’s too short and you matter. If you feel like you can’t open up to your close friends, are you really close?
It can be difficult opening up to someone about your problems. Being vulnerable means letting others see who you really are and what you’re going through. That is a huge challenge itself. But when we let down the walls around people we trust, we establish far deeper connections with them. Knowing that others understand what we’re going through brings so much relief.
Shame can be present when we first open-up about things we’ve tried to bury. But the more we attempt to bury something inside, the more shame we feel. A funny thing happens when we no longer try to hide things, and instead expose them willingly - the shame disappears.
4. Find an outlet for your emotions.
Let’s face it, emotions can get ugly. People try to avoid them or bottle them up. But all that emotion has to go somewhere eventually. So displace it: sing, dance, meditate,
write, whatever helps you without hurting yourself or others.
Hint: Do something you enjoy, because self-care really is so important.
5. Realize you won’t get better overnight.
Coping with mental health issues is more like working out at the gym. You won’t get swole the first, or even the fifth time you go to the gym. But eventually, you’ll see results. Consistency really is the key and you’ve got to commit to getting better. Because you deserve to feel good and be good. It is a difficult process but the journey to getting you better is so worth it.
Photo by: Anthony Tran