Growing up in an Asian household, I'm incredibly lucky and grateful to grow up with very supportive parents who've stood by me no matter what. My mom and dad have never been the stereotypical Asian tiger parents who push their children to succeed on their terms. My parents have been my greatest support system and I could go to them for anything. I've always been encouraged to be myself and chase my own dreams as long as I’m happy. But as I've grown older, life has gotten in the way and being happy becomes harder.
When high school kicked in, I started having “bad days” where I felt like I was drowning in responsibilities, academics, social life, and just life in general. But I couldn’t pull myself out of the water and started feeling mentally tired every day. Of course, my parents noticed. But to them, I was a teenager being a teenager; I was just stressed with my social life and would be able to get over it if I focused on important things.
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At first, I agreed with my parents. But as time passed by, things didn't get better and I didn't “get over it.” I tried to explain my feelings at the dinner table when my parents asked. But it was hard for me to describe these feelings to myself... how could I rationalize these sudden hits of sadness and the constant pit of emptiness in my stomach to my parents who don’t understand mental health at all?
To my Asian parents, mental health isn't a topic that’s openly discussed; it's practically non-existent. Mental health issues are frowned upon and disregarded by many Asian cultures. They grew up in a different generation when life was about survival. But we grew up in a generation when things are less black and white. When I say “I think I’m depressed,” they would reply with, “you have everything you need, why would you be depressed?” To them, being sad and talking about your sadness is a sign of weakness; you either keep it to yourself or fight through it. But to us, we learn to talk about feelings from our modern upbringings and social circles. In the eyes of my Asian parents, I was “moody,” “high functioning,” and “stressed.” But there's so much more to why it was hard for me to be happy.
I love my parents very much, but because of the differences between both of our generations, it wasn’t easy to get real with them about my mental health. Growing up, I could go to them for anything but getting candid with them about mental health was one of the hardest things to do. However, being honest and straightforward gave my parents a chance to understand and learn about it. I’m glad to say that, despite the way they thought of mental health previously, they're beginning to understand the significance of it and definitely come a long way from saying “just be happy!”