Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Monday, November 16, SAO and Speak2Swatties collaborated to host a dialogue regarding mental health in APIA communities. Mental health can be a taboo topic in APIA communities because of the pressures and expectations we face as the “model minority.” Society expects us to be successful in the sense that we do very well school, get a high-paying job, and live a comfortable life. We the people of the APIA community are expected to uphold a perfect image of success without any impeding issues.
After introductions, we split into groups of four for more intimate discussions about mental health, success, and our personal experiences with these two topics.
It became apparent that our understandings of mental health were vague and subjective. When asked what my idea of mental health was, I imagined that “good” mental health equated to infinite happiness and having your life together. That picture though is very idealistic and impossible to achieve. Our lives are filled with good and bad days. It is inevitable that we must struggle through stress and sadness at least in some point in our lives, if not daily.
Our ideas of “good” mental health varies from person to person because our perceptions of a healthy habit differs depending on the individual. Some people stay in bed because that’s how they care for themselves. For others, retreating to their bed signals just the opposite. Personally, I think that we must constantly take time to reflect on our own mental health, how we’re doing, and what we can do to feel better.
Our discussion on mental health then moved to the stigma against it. For many, there is a sense of discomfort when this topic is brought up.
Imagine having a conversation with a friend and he or she tells you that he or she is depressed. Despite our desire to help, our inability to navigate the conversation can result in an awkward, minimal, or unhelpful response. The problem is that topics such as depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues don’t appear in casual conversations, so when they do, we don’t know how to react. The types of reactions that we expect if we talk about mental health makes it difficult to even begin to voice how we’re really feeling.
Adding onto that, I believe that unfortunately, society holds a stigma against people struggling with their mental health by perceiving them as simply unable to deal with their own problems. More specifically, in APIA communities, mental health is stigmatized because many APIA parents are not educated on this topic and so we are left to deal with mental health problems on our own, which further complicates the idea that we must maintain our “model minority” status.
As our discussions ventured onto our own definitions of “success,” we found that our perceptions of what success looks like were very similar. For many of us, success was found with a STEM major, a practical job, and economic advancement. Yet, pursuing this image of success may sacrifice happiness and will no doubt take a toll on your mental health. Furthermore, it seems that this idea of success fosters a negative mentality of competitiveness, where success lies in being better than our peers.
By the end of the dialogue, it was apparent that the APIA focus was lost in the discussion of mental health in general. We were left wondering whether being APIA truly amplified mental health issues or whether these issues affected the general population to the same degree or manner. Nevertheless, everyone can benefit from constant reflection on how we’re doing and on thinking of ways we can be happy.