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It's All Inside Your Head, Honey: The Conversation Around Mental Health and Taboo

In the Asian and Asian American community, the conversation around mental health is often pushed to the background and stigmatized. Much of the conversation that does take place revolves around "well, why dont you just get better?"In countries such as Korea and Japan, suicide rates are high. In Korea, depression and attempts of suicide continue to rise among the population (OECD). Although both are the very image of physical health and economic prosperity, the conversation around mental health is lacking at best. This culture stems from a lack of education surrounding what exactly mental illness and mental problems are. This culture of undermining mental illness also greatly influences and carries over to the Asian American immigrant community.

In Chinese there is an expression called "xiang bu kai," roughly translating to one being unable to open up one's mind. This expression is sometimes used in the community to describe mental health, a grave misunderstanding of the uncontrollable nature of mental health.

As such, mental health is not a commonly taught topic in many Asian households. In her TED talk, "Self-Love Through Self Identity,"Miss California Eileen Kim details the pressure to be perfect as she grew up. She said that she was never proud of herself because she believed that was what was expected of her was normal and a given for an Asian American woman. She was expected to be smart, slim, and high-acheiving. When she did excel academically, she did not feel proud because it was considered by many to be the norm for an Asian girl to be smart and to recieve good grades. Her acheivements were reduced and undermined as an attribute of her being an Asian woman. Such a diminishing of acheivement is followed by intense cultural pressure to be perfectly in shape. A combination of both wrecks havoc on self-perception and self-image.

Her anguish and strive to perfection manifested itself in self-harm and depression.

As she says the deeply saddening lines"in a world where people put stereotypes and labels on yourself, you want to take control of something in your life."

Self-harm was her last resort to taking control as she had no other avenue to escape the ever confining stereotype. As her mental health was neglected, she turned to self-harm.

Such a stigma around mental health and self-harm in the Asian community leads to self-diagnosis, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and shame felt by the individual. Because of the stigma, many Asian Americans are reluctant to seek professional help as they feel ashamed. Reports find that Asian Americans report fewer mental health conditions than their white counterparts. However, they are more likely to consider and attempt suicide (APA). This likely stems from a lack of diagnosis and repression of symptoms, sometimes until it is too late.

Asian women especially are victims of the stigma as there is such intense socialtal pressure for perfection. Eileen Kim's story is inspiring and her words are impactful; they detail the struggle of the modern Asian American woman, growing up admist a mountain of pressure while being told that her concerns about her mental health are invlaid. Such a toxic cycle persists and can cause severe damage in one's self-perception. As Asian women, it is our job to advocate for awareness of mental health and mental illness in the community and to push back against repression of the idea that mental health is just as "real" and valid as physical health. Only with open dialogue and education can more people seek the help they need.


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