Asian Culture and The Stigma of Mental Illness

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I am a Hapa–I am Asian mixed with something else.

I am a mixed breed if you will. I am Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, German, and Irish (as far as I know, according to my mom.) One thing I learned before my diagnosis and after is that there was a significant stigma within Asian culture when it comes to mental illness.

My parents were shocked, having never faced something like a mental illness head-on like when my diagnosis became first schizoaffective disorder and then Bipolar One at twenty-two. Even my grandfather, who is full Filipino, never really understood what was going on with me. He tried to understand, but the truth is that in his culture, mental illness is not something you discuss. Even more so, my grandfather, on the other side, I will not say which, never got diagnosed, but given my history and how he was, mental illness was something you deal with in any way. I firmly believe that he might have been Bipolar. Same with others in my family. You pick yourself up and keep going–mental illness be damned.

The unfortunate side effect of what I like to call cultural differences is that it feeds the stigma. I have met so many people from all walks of life, and the stigma is real everywhere. However, in Asian culture, it is generally not talked about because mental illness is not something that is openly talked about in the culture. Many of my fellow followers from Asian countries have reached out asking about how I deal with this, and it was recently it came up again.

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What is comes down to, in my opinion, is that Asian cultures value the family very heavily as a unit. Asian culture emphasizes where each member belongs in the family. It can be a shame to put your family through something like having to deal with a mental illness. Instead, mental illness is swept under the rug by never talking about it, especually in our older generations.

Many Asian cultures are highly religious, and they tend to believe that things like mental illness can be taken away by a simple prayer. Please do not take my words as a slight. I believe in God, but in my experience, prayers are good, but they do not help with the actual issues that come with dealing daily with a mental illness. There is a more deep-seated stigma of shame associated with Asian culture. With that said, I think there is a real change happening in the younger generations, and with anything, it takes time. Above all, we, as individuals within our Asian culture, need to be proactive and educate ourselves.

I had personally dealt with this growing up when my mental illness came up during my teenage years. There was a level of shame, and I knew that even talking about the idea of mental illness was not something that happened. So I never talked about my issues. Ever. Not to my mom, dad, or grandparents. I let it feed into my life. I never sought help until I was downright suicidal and tried to take my life. Even then, it was three years and two more suicides before I was able to admit I had a mental illness. When it stared me in the face, I denied that something was wrong. I don’t want that to happen. Mental health advocates talk about the stigma for a reason because it is real. If you think there is something wrong, never feel like you can’t seek help.

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I want to end this with hope because I am here with a plethora of experience in dealing with this area. It is okay if your parents do not understand that your anxiety and depression are real. Talk to them. My parents eventually understood my illness by educating themselves, and it came with me living this life every day. The ups and downs are a part of the package, and maybe they will understand someday. But you have to work on you.

That is so important in this mental illness life. Self-love first is so important. Never feel alone because I will always be here. Email from the website or go to my home page, where you will find my number and text me. I will even figure out other methods for people to contact me and discuss this topic or any that you want to talk about because I am always here.

With that said, stay strong in these strange times of social isolation and always know there are so many others like yourself.

Always Keep Fighting

James

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11 Replies to “Asian Culture and The Stigma of Mental Illness”

  1. Thank you for this. While I am not Asian, I do relate to the stigma you describe among the religious. I think because mental illness is so illusory, it makes many people—especially some believers—uncomfortable. Alas, we have to keep fighting. We have to keep communicating. We have to keep forgiving ourselves, and others. Because we are not alone in this. May we march together toward a healthy future. 🕊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can completely relate to this. I’m Filipino and Native American, but I was adopted so I was raised by a Vietnamese mother. I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression my whole life and I can completely attest to the fact that in Asian families it’s absolutely not spoken about, which was damaging to my mental health, it made it harder for me to cope with, and find a solution for, what I was going through. I felt isolated, alone, wrong, in a way, for how I felt. When I was twenty-four I suffered a miscarriage which sent me into a horrible downward spiral into depression to which my mother constantly asked me, “What’s wrong with you? All you do is cry all the time. Well I don’t know what you want me to do about it.” Because mental illness isn’t often discussed in Asian families she didn’t know the proper steps to take to get me help, and at that time, I very much needed help. Unfortunately, she still doesn’t understand mental illness so I don’t even try to talk to her about my PTSD or major depressive disorder. I save that for my Significant Other and his family (they’re American) who has been truly great. Also I hope my comment isn’t offensive in any way. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment is not offensive and you point out an underlying issue within the Asian culture. It just is not talked about because it is a taboo subject when it should not be. I can understand the feeling of isolation when dealing with this and I have been told by family that didn’t understand at the time to “just get over it.” This might seem like a plug, but perhaps you could have her read my book where I talk about so many issues that are relatable to mental health. My memoir is also guide for those that may not understand. You can also try to find things online that might be useful. Above all, hang in there and stay strong. Keep fighting to end the stigma by talking about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a dear friend who lives in Japan and has a daughter with a serious mental health condition, but she struggles to get her genuine help because they believe she demon possessed and are afraid of her.
    I am a North Carolinian and grew up with family and friends with mental illness. We are always told to ignore them because they were crazy and dangerous. As grew older and wiser in my faith God taught me so different. God loves all His children! There is a great example in Mark 5:1-19.
    God loves you too!❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Both my parents are immigrants and they worked really hard getting to where they are now. This past of hardship along with their lack of knowledge of mental illness meant that it was really hard for them to understood my experiences with depression and anxiety. They would measure my experience with theirs and while it is true that their circumstances up to this point has been significantly harsher, this comparison makes me feel like I don’t “get” to have depression when my life has been so much easier.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have run into people who don’t accept the existence of mental illness. The strangest thing I ever ran into is people who think that mental illness is a sign of low intelligence. Isn’t that absurd? But more and more people take it upon themselves to get educated about mental illness, possibly because more and more individuals and families are affected by it.

    Liked by 1 person

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