Time to Change the Asian Narrative
on Mental Health.
On July 13, Cindy Hsu, Emmy Award-winning anchor and reporter from CBS2, shared her mental health struggle and how her cultural background did not make it easy to acknowledge the issue in the first place. “In Asian families, you don’t talk about things like this. You keep it inside and soldier on,” she said.
In hindsight, her story was only the beginning of something bigger that would unfold in the days to come — the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The courage displayed by Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles by talking about their struggles with mental health sent shockwaves across the world, stirred the media, and kick-started the debate of the decade on mental health in sports. “To have mental health be talked about more in sports is really nice because, at the end of the day, we are humans before athletes,” Biles said.
Osaka, in addition, also reflected upon the more prominent issues plaguing American society today. “Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested,” she said. The emotional exhaustion from such challenging topics can paralyze even the best.
Their fight is real, and their pain reflects the reality of many Americans who have been silently dealing with mental health challenges for far too long. Add race and ethnicity to the conversation, and the issue becomes even more complex—a case in point being the Asian American community.
Decades of prejudice, discrimination, and racism against Asian Americans were forced out into the open during the pandemic. The community continues to grapple with severe mental health pressures created by growing xenophobic attacks, especially among seniors, and the disproportionate loss of businesses and jobs. There is also the question of identity, how Asians are treated as perpetual foreigners despite 43% being born in the U.S. The rising political discords fuel the general perception that Asians are taking away “American” jobs, growing influence, and power at the expense of non-Asians while reinforcing the Yellow Peril rhetoric at a systemic level.
An environment like this fosters a complex emotional and highly vulnerable state of mind, triggering loneliness, fear, insomnia, depression, displaced anger, identity crises, and more. As if circumstances were not severe enough, what makes matters worse is the deep-rooted cultural stigma that makes dealing with mental health extremely difficult among Asian Americans. In Asian culture, admitting there is a problem and needing professional help can be perceived as a shameful act or a sign of weakness. Asians are, therefore, least likely to report mental health issues and are three times less likely to seek mental health help than Caucasians, according to the National Latino and Asian American Study.
So, what should you do if you are grappling with mental health issues? Seeking professional help to navigate your issues is recommended. The benefit of a medical expert is that they are upheld to privacy standards. This is an especially important consideration for the Asian community as they have received unfair blame, bias, and hatred for the pandemic. As a community, we cannot let the stigma associated with seeking medical help overpower the importance of our own life and well-being. But if seeking professional help is not where you want to start with, then there are other steps you can take to begin the healing process.
Seeking a safe environment that encourages you to talk about your challenges is the first step to healing. For Asians, the role of community is highly regarded. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with those you trust or those going through a similar journey may provide a different viewpoint to your issues or simply act as a mirror for you to see things from an outside-in perspective. A trusted group could be your friends or family or even anonymous.
A healthy body becomes a source of energy that can positively impact your mental well-being. Asians over-index in highly skilled white-collar jobs, especially in STEMs. These jobs are high pressured and time-intensive, making it easy to overlook or deprioritize physical self-care. How you’re fueling your body, how much sleep you’re getting, how much physical activity you are doing, if you are taking medication as prescribed, and managing health are all part of good physical self-care.
A routine that may include skincare, exercise, meditation, exploration, or anything therapeutic in nature can bring a sense of calmness and clarity back in life. Asian women need emotional self-care now more than ever. Their days are filled with chores, taking care of a multi-generational family, managing home and work while dealing with COVID-related concerns. Beauty and skincare have assumed a critical role. For many Asian women, beauty routines are elevated to rituals, a chance for “me-time” and time to destress. These routines are essential in keeping up the spirit and improving self-awareness.
Destigmatizing mental health issues is no easy task; however, beginning the conversation is a great start. When companies decide to join the conversation, it can be the difference between a positive or negative impact on the brand.
Join now, at the dawn of Asian Mental Health Awareness, and be welcomed as active listeners who support the Asian American community. Or wait in complacent observation until it trends across your feed. Asian America prefers the former.
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