Mental health is complicated for APIA people. let’s talk about it

This APIA Heritage Month, we’re talking about mental health. Because, for too long, it has been stigmatized among our community. That’s why PS highlights mental health journeys from APIA perspectives to deal with the shame of going to therapy, seeking help, and talking about our feelings. Read the stories here.

I have a confession: I’ve never been to therapy. (TikTok would probably say that’s a red flag.) But I’m not against going to therapy, nor do I think it would benefit. In fact, I know there is a lot to explore when it comes to my mental health.

But like many people at APIA, my approach to mental health is complicated. I grew up in a Korean household where feelings were never discussed, negative emotions were pushed aside and wanted to be forgotten, and a plate of meticulously cut fruit was the strongest expression of love.

As I’ve come into my own throughout my 20s, I’ve begun to let go of this awkwardness and rigidity around emotions. But I still have unlearning to do, I don’t always feel comfortable talking about my inner thoughts, and it’s especially hard for me to feel empowered to articulate what I’m really feeling.

Although conversations about mental health have become increasingly common in today’s society, research shows that Asian Americans are 50% less likely than other racial groups to seek mental health services. This statistic is particularly troubling given that the rise of anti-Asian hatred has reinforced trauma and fear in the community. While finances, language barriers and access are factors, experts say stigma, often from within the APIA community itself, is what keeps many from seeking mental health care.

“Our culture really operates under this lens of shame and honor,” says Angela Wu, LMFT, LPCC, known as @thesassyasiantherapist on Instagram. “Our identities are really a reflection of our family, and in order to preserve that reputation, we do this thing called saving face. Saving face comes down to sharing your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and airing your ‘dirty laundry’ ‘, so therapy, the act of sharing vulnerabilities, is embarrassing for families.”

I know there’s no shame in asking for help. As someone who tells stories in the wellness and lifestyle space for a living, I recognize the power of education around mental health. I have seen the positive impact mental health diagnoses and therapy have had on friends and loved ones. I also understand that anyone can benefit from therapy, and nothing has to be “wrong” to seek it. However, it has been difficult for me to de-stigmatize mental health in the context of my own life. I think about how worried my parents (and, worse, grandparents) might be if they found out I tried therapy; how I haven’t been through a debilitating breakup or grief that deserves professional help; and how guilty I feel for taking time away from someone who might really need it.

This is how many people at APIA approach mental health. “This stigma is internalized based on generational status and what we’ve been taught, but also the stereotypes of mainstream society that are used against us to make us feel that if we ask for help, we’re weak, we’re crazy. , we’re not worthy, or we’re not successful,” says Sahaj Kaur Kohli, MA, LGPC, NCC, author of But What Will People Say? and founder of Brown Girl Therapy, an online mental health community for all children of immigrants.

The myth of the model minority, for example, is a stereotype that makes it difficult for many members of the community to ask for help. It tells us, “We have to be nice, we don’t have to rock the boat. We should have all these things,” says Kohli. “And that makes it hard for us to say, ‘I actually have too much on my plate. I need support. I need help.'”

And there’s this never-ending sense of guilt associated with our parents, which both Wu and Kohli identify as one of the main stressors they see in their APIA clients. “We’re expected to take care of our family and not really put ourselves first, especially as immigrants,” Wu says. “We’ve been conditioned and told from a young age to be grateful for what our parents gave us. So if we have any kind of grievance, it can make us feel really selfish and produce a lot of guilt.”

Kohli adds, “There’s another layer to children of immigrants and third-generation immigrants. There’s this narrative that we have access to so many more opportunities and resources than our parents, grandparents, or even family that lives in other countries, and so we feel a sense of mental health impostor syndrome, where we feel like our struggles don’t matter or that other people have it worse so we shouldn’t complain.”

Also, while some people at APIA may recognize the value of therapy, historically, it wasn’t always made to feel like it was “for us,” says Kohli. “Many people have said to me, ‘Therapy is for white people,’ or ‘Mental health care is for white people.’ Western wellness and therapy focuses on individualism.

So when approaching mental health care, it can be doubly important to find a professional of a similar background or race, which is another barrier for many. Over the years, I have tried to find a therapist, only to be overwhelmed by the challenge of finding someone who is Asian-American, a woman, and whose sessions are covered by my insurance.

Starting your mental health journey is overwhelming, and I’ve only just begun to face this internalized stigma and obstacles for myself. So let’s talk about it. As Kohli says, this is the only way to deal with the stigma.

Wu agrees. “Sharing your stories, taking risks, because that’s something you never talked about growing up. It might feel uncomfortable, but I would encourage you to lean into that discomfort and be vulnerable if you’re feeling psychologically and emotionally safe to do so.”

That’s why, this APIA Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, PS is highlighting stories of APIA people sharing their own mental health journeys. Olympian snowboarder Chloe Kim gets vulnerable about her mental health struggles and talks about how she hopes to inspire future athletes and young APIA women by doing so. PS contributor Brina Patel writes about how therapy reconnected her with her South Asian roots. As an Asian parent, PS contributor Michael Kwan shares how he’s teaching his kids to feel “big” feelings. PS contributor Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton finds out how she overcame her cultural impostor syndrome by reclaiming her Hawaiian ancestry. PS contributor Crystal Bui explores how hypnotherapy helped her cope with her childhood trauma and reconcile growing up as an outsider in America. And we’ll continue to share insights throughout the month.

These are just a few of the stories that have inspired me to embark on my own journey. As Kohli says, “Part of taking care of our mental health is modeling that behavior to get language to model it for other people and reflect those feelings.”

So join us in continuing the conversation about mental health in the APIA community. Start reading here.

Yerin Kim is POPSUGAR’s Features Editor, where she helps shape the vision for features and special packs across the network. A graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, she has over five years of experience in the pop culture and women’s lifestyle spaces. She is passionate about spreading cultural awareness through the lenses of lifestyle, entertainment and style.

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