Too often, our community fails to acknowledge the importance of mental health. Part of it is cultural. Many of us have been taught to rely on prayer as a tool to heal any illness. Part of it is also, no doubt, the pressure many Asian-Americans feel to succeed. We view any sort of lapse in mental health as a weakness that we should be able to overcome if only we persevere.
To top it off, there is a stigma surrounding mental illness. Many members of our community view mental illness as shameful, and this can further isolate those who are facing mental illness. They are often told that they must be stronger, that they can shake off the symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, or bulimia. So instead of growing up thinking that mental illness is treatable, our children grow up thinking that there is something inherently wrong with them if they are unable to overcome mental illness without assistance.
This is, of course, untrue. Therapy and medication can provide a lot of help. It would be foolish to ignore a broken ankle and to continue walking on it. Mental illness is also treatable, and should not be ignored simply because we cannot physically see what is happening.
Studies have shown that Asian Americans are significantly less likely to seek mental health services. As a community, we need to do better. We need to normalize discussion of mental health and encourage our friends and family members to seek help if they need it. We also need to remember that mental health is just as (if not sometimes more) important than physical health. Just as anyone can develop a cold, anyone can go through bouts of depression. It has nothing to do with the moral integrity or the strength of a person.
It is time to end the stigma surrounding mental health. We need to raise our children in the knowledge that it is okay to reach out, that it is okay to ask for help when we are feeling sad, or anxious, or life seems beyond our control.