The challenges of the stigma surrounding mental health for immigrant youth needs to be changed.
I don’t remember how to not feel. My feelings are like an open book, with the emotions rolling off me as clear as day to those around me. However, I don’t want to let the people around me see the emotional turmoil I go through. I remember having intense breakdowns. These were the days when it was a little harder to get up each morning, manage the load on my shoulders, and keep myself together.
Mental health is very much real, but in the South Asian community, it is “non-existent.” It’s something that is swept under “the rug” and lost in between the layers of Asian ideals and toxic narratives that we are told to live by. If you dare to even mention or bring up mental health, you are instantly faced with backlash and looked down upon.
As an immigrant youth, I’ve felt like I was being pulled in two different directions all my life. My relationship with the Western World was telling me that it was okay to not be okay all the time and that help is always available. In my South Asian world, I was told that I should be grateful for what I have and that there is no reason to have these thoughts or feel this particular way. I was supposed to feel lucky to have this life that my parents had fought so hard to give me.
From my own experiences, I learned that people only hear what they want to hear. When I started opening up about my mental health, older Asian family members looked down on me, and there was this tense and stifling silence surrounding what I had to say. My mother told me it wasn’t normal for people to share or even have these thoughts, and there was a lot of stigma surrounding the mental health talk.
The Asian community is beautiful in the sense that we are unified by our vibrant cultures, and despite being oceans away from our ancestral soil, our families still have a strong link to the shades of brown that paint our skin. However, as a frontier for accepting diverse identities, we are challenged by materialistic and toxic mental blocks that have stood for too long. There is so much toxicity surrounding mental health and any signs of “imperfections” in each other. We need to allow people to express their thoughts and feelings, rather than forcing ourselves and others to bottle up these emotions.
“Perfect” is deeply rooted in Asian societies, as we are shaped by the idea that “perfection” exists in this world, and that being “perfect” will unlock this “realm of happiness.” However, happiness and perfection are standards that I have now realized to be unrealistic. As a character in ‘The Lunchbox’ (2013) says, “life is hectic these days… there are too many people, and everyone wants what the other one has.” Our lives have started to revolve on what others have, and how we can become “perfect” to fit in with everyone else. I think “perfect” does not exist, and that we should embrace our imperfections and flaws - as they are what truly makes us human.