University of Wisconsin - Madison
The Stigma of Mental Illness in Asian Cultures
Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Asian people do not discuss mental illness. While “Asian” is a broad term that cannot possibly encompass all the nationalities and ethnicities of the Asian continent, this is a solid fact in the most prominent cultures: China, Japan, Korea, and--slightly less prominent, but more relevant to me--Indonesia.
To be mentally ill in an Indonesian family is a weakness--shameful and embarrassing. To have that sort of “invisible” disability--something that could, in some cases, cripple someone to the point of being unable to give even the illusion of functioning like a neurotypical human being--means you’ve tainted the bloodline. In Indonesia--a country whose culture is a conglomeration of Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism, and Confucianism--familial ties are what drive society. The cultural subjugation of women is just another layer of shame that drives Asian women to ignore or even hide their symptoms until it’s almost too late. Depression, though, is what really holds the stigma.
I suspected it--and, somewhere deep in me, I knew it--but I never said it, my mother never said it, and I carried on with my slipping grades and dirty room. Even now, after months of therapy and antidepressants, the word “depression” was never used in direct...
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