What are your expectations?” – something I wish I had the courage to ask more. Growing up as a first generation Asian-American, I felt as though standards were always held higher compared to other families, and to be honest, I never knew why. Why was more expected of me in school compared to other students? Why did my parents never praise me for doing well? Were the words “Good job” or “I’m proud of you” too hard to say? I have constantly been criticized growing up, told that I could do better when I have already done the best I could, and because of that I have always had low self-esteem, low confidence, and unrealistically high expectations. This created more problems such as overwhelming anxiety and severe depression, and from my experience, mental health in an Asian household is not something taken seriously. After expressing my mental health concerns to my parents, I became the punchline for every bad anxiety and depression joke they came up with. I struggled with coping and trying to find a strong support system because I felt like everyone, I met would have the same high expectations of me. It was not until recently that I realized other people struggle with the same mental health problems because their culture also does not accept mental illness. Knowing that I was not alone with these problems growing up would have been enough comfort and reassurance to know that it was not because my parents simply did not love me, but rather they were harder on me because they did not have the same opportunities as I do in America. I wish someone had showed me the resources that were available specifically for me, an Asian American.
Asian Americans are less likely to seek out help for their mental health concerns since it is a taboo health issue in several Asian cultures (1). Like many members of the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community, my mental health problems stemmed from parental pressure for academic success, being raised by strong traditional and cultural values, discrimination, and stereotypical views (1). The “model minority” myth damages the AAPI community’s mental health because it is a form of stereotype that creates a preconceived notion of intelligence based on the color of one’s skin as well as their racial background (2). The model minority myth also contributes to the false accusations that all AAPIs are successful, have strong work ethics, and are well balanced (3). Stereotyping the AAPI community causes increased pressure to succeed which leads to anxiety and fear of failure. This community also faces a lack of understanding which leads to less data collected that helps to create prevention and treatment plans (5). In strong traditional Asian cultures, having a mental illness is a sign of weakness and shame, therefore many people would stray away from educating themselves on mental health (3). The lack of treatment and prevention plans due to the misconception of mental health within these cultures puts members of the AAPI community at risk for worsening symptoms and decreased quality of life (3).
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has helped advocate for the awareness of mental health among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (3). NAMI has been attempting to close the gap between the increased demand for mental health providers and the lack of culturally appropriate services (3). The resources available on NAMI’s website focuses on the importance of seeking culturally competent care (3). With the research NAMI has done, they have discovered that traditional and non-western medicine practices are what members of the AAPI community uses as primary treatment (3). However, this can delay people to seek proper treatment and care for their mental health concerns (3). By having more culturally competent providers, members of the AAPI community will have an easier time establishing trust and getting the support they need because these providers are more likely to understand their culture values and provide the most appropriate therapeutic techniques (3).
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is working to create a safe place for people of all different backgrounds (4). To make others feel comfortable, their organization is composed of employees and members of all different races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds (4). Their main mission is to create a world that is free of stereotypes and filled with hope and recovery for anybody that has suffered from a mental illness (4).
If you or someone you know is having difficulties expressing your mental health concerns, please reach out to the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI. The NAMI Helpline will help you on your next step to seeking care and will offer you the support you may be looking for. If you are uncomfortable with speaking to someone over the phone, you can reach them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You are not deemed weak for having a mental illness, it is a common illness and you do not have to be alone while you combat it, reach out for the support you need today.
Mental Health Among Asian Americans (1) https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/asian-american/article-mental-he alth
Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities and Mental Health (2) https://www.mhanational.org/issues/asian-americanpacific-islander-communities-and-me ntal-health
Asian American and Pacific Islander (3) https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/Asian-American-a Nd-Pacific-Islander
Who We Are (4) https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/Who-We-Are
National Latino and Asian American Study (5) https://www.massgeneral.org/mongan-institute/centers/dru/research/past/nlaas