Asian American Mental Health: Struggling in Silence

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When we read an excerpt from Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” in class, it brought up an interesting discussion about Asian American mental health. More specifically, we addressed how current available mental health services are geared toward a universal white subject, and therapists in the United States simply can’t understand the type of pressure and stress that is put on Asian Americans because they have not experienced it themselves. In Hyphen Magazine’s online blog, “Ask a Model Minority Suicide,” one blogger wrote a deep excerpt entitled, “Hello,” in which she describes how her struggle to be the “perfect model minority” that both her family and society expected her to be led her to sit on the rails of the Golden Gate Bridge, contemplating her existence. By comparing this blog post to Chua’s “Tiger Mother,” we can clearly see that the mental health of Asian Americans has not been taken seriously enough in American society because of the misunderstanding of what goes on in the mind of the minority that seems to always be succeeding and have things under control.

In Chua’s excerpt from her book, she outlines the strict rules of parenting in her household—what she considers to be a standard Asian mother parenting style. The anonymous blogger goes through what many would call an average Asian American checklist of graduating summa cum laude, going to a top-ranked graduate program, and being fiscally responsible. Yet, even with all of these successes and triumphs, the blogger still found herself contemplating suicide. The blogger even admits, “this is not the profile of a suicide—unless, that is, you are Asian American.” She goes on to explain how psychologists at UC Davis are finding that Asian American college students suffering from severe depression and suicidal thoughts do not present with failing grades or sub-par performance, but instead usually the opposite occurs. The problem with the American mental health system takes these signs of succeeding academically and financial stability as healthy signs and nothing to worry about. However, to an Asian American, these signs of stability are what they grew up to know as the standard.

So why do American therapists not dig deeper in to their Asian American clients to find the real struggles? Because they, like most other people in America, see Asian Americans as the model minority, who are happy and succeed in anything they put their mind to. The anonymous blogger delivers a powerful statement about her depression: “Unless you yourself were living the same puzzle, I doubt you’d have been able to tell.” In other words, the lack of familiarity with growing up in a house like Chua’s makes it hard to identify with the struggles of an Asian American. Because white therapists have not lived under the same mother or rules that Asian Americans have, they too suffer from this positive stereotype that hangs over the Asian American community. In class, one brought up that there are cultural sensitivity training classes, so why don’t more therapists take advantage of this resource to better understand and help their Asian American clients?

Across the United States, across all races and cultures, children have been living through white-created frames that make it hard for people to address the stigmas within different communities. It is neither correct nor incorrect to parent like Chua, and everyone has different parenting styles, but the Asian American community usually has very strict parents that have different standards than, as Chua calls them, Western parents. The problem with Asian American mental health is not rooted in the parenting styles, instead, it is rooted in how the country and therapists treat their mental health. It is easy for many to assume that all Asian Americans fall under the “model minority” stereotype that produces doctors and scientists, but, as the anonymous blogger states, it is not the Asian American actors on TV that make them feel inadequate, but their cousins, siblings, and parents, that push them to the edge of depression.

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