The Shame of Depression
The Shame of Depression: Asian Americans and the Silence on Mental Illness
It’s no secret that depression is an American epidemic. Affecting almost 15 million Americans each year, it’s a mental disorder that taints nearly every facet of life - work, school, family, love. But the majority another of these people are suffering quietly, reluctant for one reason or to seek help ringing as particularly true among Asian Americans with thirteen percent of all Americans mentioning depressive symptoms to their physician.
In the Asian American community, that number falls to two percent, despite having substantial rates of depression in the population. So, what prevents Asian Americans from speaking up about depression? The answer may lie in the unique characteristics of Asian American culture.
For centuries, Buddhism has been integral to the development of Asian cultures. Today, the impact of Buddhism is also visible in the US, where roughly one in seven Asian Americans follow the religion. Buddhist teachings idolize mental strength and invest little faith in human emotions, which are seen as indulgent and fleeting. On the other hand, Western society puts emotional expression on a pedestal different to many Asian American cultures that are much more reserved in this area. Talking about depression warrants a certain degree of emotional openness that these people just may not be comfortable with.
Depression is often perceived as an inability to manage one’s negative thoughts and emotions, a character flaw, rather than a legitimate illness that requires treatment. In the context of Asian American cultures, a tradition of emotional restraint can trivialize the psychological damage caused by mental illness.
Additionally, Asian American cultures tend to be highly family-oriented. The good of the family comes before the good of the individual. This may seem peculiar in mainstream American society, which glorifies individualism, but Asian Americans often value the togetherness of the family more than anything else and so, maintaining the image of a strong, healthy family is essential.
Those who are mentally ill might hesitate to open up about their experiences, due to concerns about how the family will be affected just like a mirror where the image of the individual reflects the image of the collective.
Depression is a complicated illness; science has yet to nail down its cause, and society continues to stigmatize it. If we want to eradicate depression, we have to tear down the walls that inhibit open, honest conversation on the topic. Thus, fostering conversation about depression and other mental illnesses among Asian Americans can help overcome the stigma that keeps so many of them silent about their innermost battles.
Born and raised in New York City, Zahra is a sophomore at New York University majoring in Economics and minoring in Mental Health Studies. She has worked at NYU’s student newspaper, Washington Square News, as a staff writer for the Opinion section. She is passionate about mental health issues, particularly expanding access to mental healthcare and erasing the stigma surrounding anxiety and depression. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, making Spotify playlists, and watching serious movies that are unintentionally funny. As a self-proclaimed over-thinker and over-analyzer, Zahra is fascinated by the human mind. She dreams of traveling to obscure places and writing about them. In addition to blogging for Her Culture, she tutors high school students.