Addressing Mental Health Stigma in Asian Communities

May 24, 2023 | 
Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month | Equity

My grandfather and father faced exclusionary codes that made entering the United States and gaining citizenship impossible. Both worked on the railroads, which was how a lot of Chinese immigrants came into the country at the time – making much lower wages than workers of other races. As a boy, Dad lived in the United States during worldwide economic and social turmoil, while my mother arrived here during a period of significant racial and cultural unrest.

My parents poured their hearts and souls into ensuring that my siblings and I had a better life than they had. They emphasized our American identities, but at the same time, they also wanted us to hold onto our Asian traditions and values. This was common among all immigrant families, sometimes creating tension and a sense of disconnect.

It has taken me a lot of time to understand and comprehend the experiences my parents had living as immigrants to the United States.

My parents shielded us from their upbringings, as they came from a generation that didn’t talk about their struggles. Obtaining mental health support within Asian communities, particularly the Chinese American community, is often met with defensiveness and denial due to cultural challenges.

I have engaged and participated in mental health counseling. However, when I revealed this to my family, it caused significant turmoil. One of my kids has a lot of anxiety and counseling has been incredibly helpful for her. I told my brother and my sisters about it and their reactions were huge. “Is she going to be able to get a job? Is she safe to have in our house?”

Discussing mental health treatment among family and friends can be seen as an insult because you are expected to take care of your own and seeking outside help is seen as a failure.

One of the significant obstacles we face is the lack of Asian mental health providers. I was raised in a more diverse region of the country before moving to the to the Pacific Northwest – one of the least. Sometimes, you need to be able to talk to people that look like you to have trust and feel safe.

My message to the Asian community is this: it’s okay to talk about mental health, it’s okay to seek professional help, and it’s okay to trust others.

By Robin, Support Staff

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