How Stigmas Against Mental Illness Weaken API Communities


After having had the opportunity to attend UCR’s APSP GenerAsian Womxn’s Conference earlier this year, I have not stopped thinking about the stigmas and stereotypes that surround mental illness, especially in API (Asian/Pacific American) communities.


Throughout my childhood, the most common responses I heard towards mental illness were comments like “those people are just weak,” or “why do they have to talk about it so publicly,” or “how could they be depressed when they have so much.” While listening to the other women talk at the conference, my eyes were opened to how this was not only my isolated experience. Currently, these reactions are still, sadly, very popular within Asian American culture. Starting from when we’re young, these misconceptions are repeatedly put into our heads.


Photo by Ewan Yap on Unsplash


Most of us Asian Americans in college are first or second generation, meaning our parents or grandparents immigrated to America solely for their family’s future. We all carry this pressure on our shoulders to be perfect because we know the sacrifices that were made to put us where we are, and our parents won’t let us forget. When it piles up in college, it can seem utterly impossible to ask for help, let alone ask your family. Mental illness seems ridiculous to these older generations of API because they grew up in very different times.


Yet, in reality, it is very likely that they too have experienced mental health issues due to trauma, they just don’t know how to deal with it other than by dismissing it. By not being open, we are allowing for an overwhelming emotional divide between grandparents and parents to their children. The road to recovery and reconnection is tough but not as impossible as we may think. It all starts with us.


Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash


If you have are experiencing mental health issues, whether it be anxiety or depression etc., know that it is not your fault. You are not weak nor dismissing the hard work and sacrifices your parents put in for you. You are just human. If you do not feel safe asking your family for help, try to look elsewhere. UCR’s APSP, for example, is a great program to connect with other API who feel the same way, mentally and culturally. For a step further, reach out to mental health professionals, whether on campus or not. Asking for help does not mean you are not capable, it means you are strong enough to know when you need others.


Once we are self-aware about our own mental health, we can work toward educating our families and friends little by little. It is not our responsibility, but it will serve to better our communities as a whole. Mental illness is never going to go away, all we can do is adapt just like our parents did.