ArticlesMental Illness, Depression and Suicide are Asian Diaspora’s Number One Problem

Sometime last year, I stared at a wall for thirty minutes.

I was really sad and wanted to die, except I didn’t really want to, just that it felt like I was falling from a cliff and I was holding on for dear life against an inevitable fall. I saw a therapist and she told me I had depression. I told her she was wrong. I don’t get depression. I’m a happy person, a strong person. Aren’t depressed people always moody and debby-downers? Me; there’s always a smile on my face. I’m an optimist. I make lemonades. What I knew about life is that achievement cures ails. If something was wrong, I got back up and fixed it. Moping, I told my therapist, is what weak people do.

But the following month, I was under my bed covers, not wanting to get out of bed. Days later, I contemplated jumping toward the 7 train; I even moved a foot, but the other foot stayed planted asking “what are you doing?”. I googled how to make cyanide. All of this, I rationalized, was just fun curiosity. I wasn’t really going kill myself. But maybe I was. Maybe one day I will.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

You’re the first person I’m telling this. I’ve hinted it before in social media, but each time I do it, I get really embarrassed. I think there’s something wrong with my brain, my mood, my inability to make myself happy whenever I need to. I don’t bother to tell my family or my first-generation Asian friends. They’ll just say I need to cheer up, choose happiness, choose strength. After all, a mentally unhealthy individual brings my family shame. It says my parents didn’t raise me right. So most of us struggling with mental health hide.

Luckily, my parents are sweet people and they don’t really subscribe much to this belief. Still; talking about depression to them is like speaking about unicorns. Mental health is an invention of the Western world, created by cultures priding themselves upon laziness. Perhaps this is true with Americans. A lot of us, at even the slightest whim, clock out and say it’s because of depression or OCD or ADHD, etc. Mental health, according to Asian immigrants, is a first-world problem.

It’s something that makes sense on the surface: white people are just lazy, am I right am I right? But the statistics on second-generation diaspora suicide are alarming. It’s the second leading cause of death among our demographic in America from ages 15-34. Second-generation Asian-American women are extremely likely to commit suicide. Asian-American college students overall have a higher rate of suicidal thoughts than their white peers. Most Asian-Americans know another Asian-American who killed themselves. I personally know three. If I counted the ones I’ve met, but didn’t know much, that number is far higher. Among our many in-fighting scuabbles on topics ranging from feminism, academic pressure, Asian men struggles, first vs. second-gen, Asian diaspora has turned a blind eye from our number one threat: mental health.

Why is this happening?

I toss aside the stats and fancy articles because the answer’s right there within my own experience: Denial. Shame. Inaccessibility. While all cultures struggle with accepting treatment for mental illness, Asian cultures are piss-poor at dealing with it the most. We have no acknowledgement from our first-gen parents, no encouragement to come out and in our face-saving and strength-is-found-by-lifting-our-own-bootstraps philosophy, second-gen Asians can’t even find solace within each other. We’re built to compete against ourselves. Asian parents respond to our mental health “whining” as inconsequential. Their motto? Learn to eat shit.

Where are our community’s mental health professionals?

Art by Ajgiel.

As a casualty of choosing careers that appease our parents, many of our capable, smart second-gen Asians felt it’d be wrong to select a “shameful” “low-salary” job like therapist. We might as well choose alchemy. The irony is, most of our dentists, accountants, pharmacists, etc. are killing themselves. Mental health degrees also cost an arm and a leg. From a ROI point-of-view, it’s a foolish career path. If one is to spend that much money on a degree, why not dentistry? It’s damn hard to find an Asian therapist or psychologist; even near-impossible to find an Asian male therapist.

Truth be told, the most important career a second-gen Asian can choose today to elevate our communities is not creative art, film and music as we often like to say (including myself). If we could swap every aspiring writer, actor, filmmaker, musician, artist into a mental health professional, there would be a tsunami of difference in our communities. I have no one to go to when I want to jump toward the oncoming 7-train. Crazy Rich Asians isn’t going to heal me. My Asian friends don’t know how to talk to me, especially the first-gens (fobs). My relatives tell me to just suck it up and be stronger. White therapists can’t culturally relate to my struggles.

Asian diaspora mental health professionals: We need you to save us.

Because right now all I have is this blog as my band-aid. Sooner or later, it might not be enough to save me.

Louis Leung

Louis Leung is a proud self-published author who enjoys writing novels that revolves around controversial Asian-American themes that normally wouldn't be accepted by mainstream publishing.

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