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the stigma of mental health in asian culture

Growing up in an Asian Household, I received first-hand experience on how mental health was not widely spoken about in the Asian culture. The mental health stigma remains prevalent in most Asian countries where the idea of being diagnosed with mental health disorders are seen as negative, social discrediting and abnormal. Mindsets like these causes people who suffer from mental health disorders to be undesirable as individuals and a categorised under a rejected stereotype rather than being accepted and treated similarly with everyone else. Following the mentioned idea, this became a driving force behind poor support and care for both the mental root cause and physical symptoms that arise which would eventually deeply stimulate significant impacts on society.

Now, what exactly is the reason for the prevalence of mental health stigmas? In my opinion, I guess the stigma can largely be traced back to traditional beliefs and mindsets that are rooted in Asian cultures. Many Asian families tend to place honour, pride and collectivism in high regard. They have the impressions that their family’s image is something that must be well taken care of and anomalies such as mental illness within the family or problems that deem negative to them can therefore be seen as a sign of weakness. From that, they have the outlook that the mentioned are a source of shame for the family. A study led by IMH’s (Institute of Mental Health, Singapore) research division echoes this, with findings indicating that Asian respondents tended to feel more threatened by mental health disorders as a mark of shame. The concept of needing to ‘save face’ and retain honour results in the blatant disregard of mental illness and treated as though people who suffer from it are aliens even though deep down some of them might face the same difficulty. Nonetheless, they believe that acknowledging it may lead to a perceived loss of social standing.

Likewise, prominent gender roles in Asian cultures also exacerbate mental health stigma, as men are discouraged from exhibiting any signs of weakness physically or emotionally due to traditional notions of masculinity. The influence of these traditional values contributes to the deep-rooted mental health stigma that Asian societies face, with generations after generations passing down and reinforcing these mindsets. This is truly saddening as it subjects children of young ages to have a mindset that their feelings are not validated since young which may create a very unpleasant environment for them to live in as they are not portraying their true identity to their friends and family due to being afraid of being misjudged.

Diving into the negative effects of such stigma, for those who suffer from mental health conditions would face the implications of the stigma at an undeniably severe level. With regard to that, many individuals who are in bad shape never actually seek any form of professional treatment for their condition or even fail to receive a diagnosis hence they have no direction in where their life might lead them to. Even worse, some might hide their feeling so much that the people around them fail to see their pain. Furthermore, it hurts to see when their emotional health is not being well taken care of to the point it gets manifested as physical health issues. To exemplify some physical symptoms, it includes chest pain, gastrointestinal problems, musculoskeletal problems or women’s health issues. Rather than seeking for the right treatment immediately when they choose to assess their needs, some patients with lack of awareness of the link between poor mental health and physical health may seem treatment without realising their root cause, leading to unnecessary prolonged issues and treatment journeys In the long run, it might be more painful to face the fact that certain treatments that they have spent so much time and money on does not seem to improving their well-being in any way.

Allowing such stigma to remain so in control of many people’s lives could lead to the creation of a vicious cycle that trivialises mental illnesses. From my knowledge, many psychologists share the similar opinion that the Asian public’s general perception of a mentally ill person is one that is violent, unreliable and unstable. Additionally, it is clear that the stigma is already embedding itself in sections of the younger generations as many of them begin to associate mental illness with negative derogatory terms like “dangerous”, “crazy”. “weird” and “attention-seeking” individuals. Comments like these makes it even more difficult for patients to seek help and normalise their struggles amongst one another as they are in fear of what feedback might be received on their thoughts and feelings.

Imagine, being stuck in a bubble of your own thought and feelings that are not providing any benefits to you but more destruction to your mind and soon, your soul. In that mind, lies the constant reminder that you cannot and will not send a message to others around you – your friends and family – that you have some challenges in your head and there are levels to it that become more and more difficult after each challenge. As the intensity of the challenge increases, so does your symptoms. Soon, you begin to realise that you are restless, as though you feel so weak that you can barely make up any form of movement, as if your whole body is shutting down on you. Telling yourself to get back up is not enough, because your physicality says otherwise. It’s like your own body is playing mind games with you and you are not in control with your own actions anymore. You no longer know what to believe and think there are more underlying causes and think that you are having some other form of a disease.

That is just one great impact if we fail to acknowledge the detrimental effects of mental health living an unhealthy lifestyle. Where there is an ongoing cycle of thought just going through a whirlpool and hoping someone might catch them halfway and stop them from revolving around the endless circle so that they can wake up from their nightmare with the support of others lending a helping hand. Sometimes, all we need is a listening ear, and that would be a great help rather than dismissing each other’s feelings as though they are robots unable to feel any great emotion but are mechanically functioned to have an ‘okay’ outlook in order to protect their image and the people closest to them.

Image was taken by the author.

Many do not realise that it is actually truly a beautiful sight to see people fall and rise at the same time. In my opinion, it shows growth. And growth does not start from the middle to the reach a peak, it usually and it always has a better outcome when you analyse the growth from the lowest point to the highest. Take a plant as an example, when you plant a plant from scratch with a single seed until it grows so healthily, you feel proud of your efforts of how you have taken care of it so swiftly. Then when it suddenly appears to be wilting a little due to a random bug infecting it, you eliminate the pests however possible and try to nurture it back to its flourishing state. You wouldn’t think twice to care for such a plant that you hold so dear and cared for since its birth. Same goes to the people around you. You began your path with them as friends or relatives, and when they are in their rough patch, it always doesn’t hurt to try a little to ask what they are in need for. You never know how a power of one question can immensely reroute one's path to the sun.

We live in such an environment where many might feel afraid to speak their true feelings when it comes to opening up who they are and what identifies them purely as an individual due to the history that our ancestors have been brought up in. Due to such difficulty, you can always make a comfortable small area for those who come to you in need to speak freely and be mindful of your responses. Be accepting and understanding and always have the idea in mind that there is more to the story than what can be seen on the surface. To create and break the stigma surrounding the ideology that mental health is ‘weird’ and ‘abnormal’ it starts with our mindsets and actions first. Spread love and kindness but remember to be kind to yourself simultaneously.

Submitted by: Natalie C.


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