Asian Americans and Mental Health: Stigma Is an Understatement!
If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve read over and over again about the importance of recognizing and treating mental illness. In preparation for my White House visit, I spoke with one doctor who called mental illness the “elephant in the room,” and one of the biggest cost drivers for many other South Asian health issues.
It’s not just South Asians, either. Mental health treatment is an important issue for Asian Americans as a whole. At an Asian American Heritage Month celebration I recently attended, Daphne Kwok, Executive Director of Asians and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California, emphasized the burden of untreated mental illness on our communities. She said that many Asian American families do not want to acknowledge disability and don’t seek available resources because of the stigma. Here is more info on AAPIs and mental illness.
So What Is Mental Illness, And How Do I Seek Treatment?
Mental illness can include things like depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts, and other conditions. The good news is, these conditions are TREATABLE!
You don’t have to live with it or just be strong. It isn’t all in your head. Just like a broken arm, mental illness is a real illness that needs to be treated. And with treatment, you can be a healthier person and a better parent. In the South Asian community, there is an all or nothing perception about mental illness. Either you are completely mentally healthy (without treatment or only treated in the form of “mental strength” or positive thinking) and a functioning member of society, or you are “crazy” and will never be functional–broken in some irreparable way. In this paradigm, there is no middle ground. The truth is, you can have a mental illness, obtain treatment in the form of medication, therapy, hospitalization (in some cases) and/or lifestyle changes, AND live a happy and functional life. Here is a list of successful people who have battled mental illness.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness and would like to seek treatment, CONGRATULATIONS! Just getting to this point is a huge accomplishment.
Mental health treatment may include a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Reader and Mental Health Advocate Seema Nanda Demystifies the Process of Finding a Therapist:
I Am Moms reader Seema Nanda is powerful advocate for South Asian mental health issues. She’s written this helpful resource to teach readers how to choose a therapist.
How do I choose a therapist?
The first thing you should do is research. If you’re looking for someone to talk to about the death of a parent, for example, you want someone who specializes in grief.
In addition, you can also look into different kinds of therapy. For example, some practice cognitive behavior therapy. There are many kinds, so it is a good idea to start out armed with some basic information.
Another way in which therapists differ is in their education. Some are social workers and some are psychologists. These days, there are people called life coaches, and they also do counseling. Their training and education differs from both social workers and psychologists.
Therapy is expensive. So, another thing important issue is insurance coverage. If you’re a student, it is often covered by the insurance you receive through your college or university. If not, a call to your insurance company will answer all your questions. Often the coverage for mental health is a different percentage than the other medical coverage. Make sure to ask about the deductible, if there is one for mental health coverage.
If you are uninsured, do some research on the Internet. There are inexpensive options available through your local county. On occasion, individual therapists will charge on a sliding scale according to what you can afford, so be sure to ask and find out from the individual practitioner.
The best way to choose a therapist is to make an appointment for a session. Take an hour out of your day and sit and speak with him or her in person. Feel free to ask any questions you have. It is okay to be nervous or scared. You might also ask about what kinds of methods he or she prefers. This is the only way to get a good sense of whether or not you like the person.
If you feel comfortable, you can ask your friends or relatives if they know a good therapist. Many people go to psychologists or social workers for counseling. If one of your friends or relatives can refer you to one, sometimes this is a very good way to find someone who is adept at their job. Remember, though, just because your friend likes a certain person, you might not like them as much.
How is talking to a therapist different from talking to a parent or a trusted friend?
Therapy is different from talking to a friend or a parent in a few different ways.
One way is that a therapist will not discuss anything you say with others unless you have expressed intentions to harm yourself or someone else. This means that you can feel totally comfortable to tell them anything. It can be intimidating and uncomfortable, but if you have a good one to speak to, it can feel safe and cozy.
This brings us to another aspect of therapy. Trusting the therapist is a really important part of the therapeutic process. Of course, we generally trust our parents and friends. However, when you are speaking to a therapist, you can rely on the fact that they are there to help you with your personal issues.
When you speak to a friend or a parent, it is somewhat different from talking to a therapist because each person in your life has a personal history with you. Sometimes this personal history can color the conversations you have with them.
When you speak to a therapist, however, his or her own personal feelings and own personal past stay on the outside of the office. This is not a hard and fast rule. Some follow this rule very strictly and some do share small pieces of information with you.
You can read Seema’s other work at South Asian Parent online magazine here, where she shared her battle with anorexia. You can also read her advice column, “Dear Seema Aunty” at Brown Girl Magazine here
Seema Nanda is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, where she studied philosophy and religion. Her interests include reading, films, collage, and the other arts. She enjoys writing for the Desi community in the United States, especially in the area of mental health advocacy. Seema lives and works in Texas, where she was born and raised.
For a South Asian-specific mental health resource, check out MySahana, a South Asian mental health nonprofit, which has a wealth of articles and other resources (including a limited list of South Asian mental health professionals organized by geographic region). They have a resource on how to find a therapist too.
If you need to talk to someone now, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help with suicidal thoughts and emotional distress.
Do you have any more to add? What else do you think we can do to eliminate the stigma of mental health issues?
Like what you see? Want to read more? Follow me on Twitter @Iammomsblog, follow me on Pinterest at Iammomsblog, or subscribe to I Am Moms to receive posts by e-mail. Follow @Iammomsblog Follow Me on Pinterest