by Guest Contributor Jen, originally published at Disgrasian
July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Across the board among minority groups in the US, stigmas surrounding mental health and treatment are much greater than they are for whites. So, while July is almost over, I hope this is only the beginning of the Asian American community and other minority communities championing a shame-free discussion about our mental health.
To kick off this month, my friend, Nigerian American poet and mental health advocate Bassey Ikpi, who started The Siwe Project to raise awareness of mental health issues in the African diaspora, declared July 2 “No Shame Day.” No Shame Day was designed to encourage people to share their stories and struggles with mental illness openly via social media. I’ve talked about my depression in the past–though upon reflection, not nearly enough given how much I care about destigmatizing mental illness–so I, of course, had to participate. (Plus, I want to be more like Bassey when I grow up. You would too if you knew her.)
And yet, for all the time I’ve spent trying to own it, I still catch myself trying to disown it, too. I only ever do this with one person–myself. But, man, do I try. When I feel better, I like to pretend that depressed person never existed. Ding dong, the witch is dead. I think I’ve eulogized her at least a dozen times. When I start to feel worse, I immediately go for the quick fix. Do I need more sleep? Do I need more exercise? Should I drink less coffee? More coffee? Do I need to start yoga again? Should I eat more kale? Should I eat more cake? All perfectly valid questions, but a defensive smoke screen I put up nevertheless in order to not ask the question I really need to be asking myself: am I depressed (again)?
I think people who aren’t familiar with what it’s like to be Asian can be quick to assume that someone raised with such notions about mental illness was raised by the most unkind, uncaring, unfeeling wolves. I’ve met plenty of mental health care professionals who’ve jumped to that assessment. In my case, it wasn’t true. But I did inherit cultural values from my parents that they inherited from their parents that they inherited and so on and so forth that did not teach me how to live with depression.
And I’m not alone. In study after study, researchers have revealed the devastating effects of cultural stigmas–and other barriers to treatment–on the mental health of our community. Some un-fun facts:
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Asian Americans ages 15-34 [link]
- Asian American teen girls have the highest rates of depression across race and gender [link]
- Asian American women ages 15-24 have the highest rates of suicide among all races in that age group. [link]
- Asian American women over the age of 65 have the highest rates of suicide among all races in that age group [link]
- Asian Americans are almost two times less likely to seek mental health treatment than the general population [link]
When I spent time on No Shame Day reflecting on how hard it’s been to come to terms with my own depression, even after all of this time and treatment, even with the support I’ve received from family, friends, quality mental health care practitioners, readers of this blog, and perfect strangers–to that person who saw me wailing uncontrollably in the car on Santa Monica Blvd. years ago and asked if I needed help, I still think of your kindness–I was reminded that the struggle against not only the cultural stigma over mental illness but the internalized personal one is deep and ongoing. I’ve only come this far in that struggle with the help of many others. It’s my hope that no one else reading this who’s been nodding along to what I’m saying will have to go it alone either.
Wishing you all peace, love, and self-forgiveness.