Not knowing much about this particular subject, or why it was so “trendy,” I researched various categories and types of mental health common in youth and young adults. As I scroll through links after links, reports after reports, conversations my family had on mental health slowly surfaced in the back of my head.
My grandparents had always reminded me of how fortunate I am to be the youngest of the family and to receive the best education in the U.S. I’ve been told countless times that there’s no reason to be upset — I should be happy.
Thinking back, I realized that mental health has never been a priority in my life, because growing up, I’ve been taught that instead of expressing complaints or finding fault in anything, I should be grateful for the life that I have. Comparisons of my life and upbringing with other people, especially ones my age, have always been shown to me with the mindset that it will solve all my problems.
I should be content with my life and what I have, because there are others out there who are much more unfortunate than I am — it made sense to me at the time. However, now, in the midst of world crises, I see so many people speaking up and advocating for human rights and the significance of mental health.
As part of my research, I looked to social media and observed their attempt to engage in mental health conversations. Their inclusion of real life stories of people with mental illness and their journey in navigating themselves through the dark times were so raw that I could almost picture myself in their shoes and the fear to open up clashed with the desperate need to seek help. In the midst of feeling a confused ball of emotions, something triggered a memory.
Suddenly, I’m brought back to some of the conversations I had with one of my best friends (whose pronouns are they/them/theirs). Some of the mental illnesses I knew they had were depression and anxiety. I also knew they are members of the LGBTQ community.
I started scrolling all the way back up to some of the previous conversations we had.
Friend: I don’t want to eat.
Friend: ‘Cuz it’s like food and I don’t feel like eating.
Me: Just eat a little bit.
Friend: I did, but my grandma’s like “eat a little bit more, EAT A LITTLE BIT MORE.”
Me: So you’re saying I’m like your grandma.
Friend: Yeah, basically.
At first, I took this exchange as a joke, but later on reading more into the context, it was not at all a laughing matter. I sounded like the traditional grownups who don’t understand the criticalness of different struggles and diagnosis. My friend trusted me with a part of her, hoping that I can help her get better or at least be her listener. Instead, I gave useless and irrational “advice.”
Friend: I, no joke, couldn’t breathe. I was so stressed out.
It was an anxiety attack.
You can’t really control these.
Me: You couldn’t breathe?!
Friend: No, I was breathing heavy and then I went dizzy, and like couldn’t control myself.
It was hard to see and I couldn’t catch my breath and I was sweating so hard.
Me: GET SOME SLEEP AND RELAX.
It was an anxiety attack.
For the last time YOU CAN’T CONTROL THAT.
YOU THINK I COULD REMEMBER TO RELAX WHILE I WAS HAVING AN ANXIETY ATTACK.
I responded with “I’m sorry” — I truly am sorry. Sorry that I couldn’t help more. Sorry that I couldn’t provide them with the sense of comfort and peacefulness that they’ve always given me.
Another dialogue that I vividly remember was about their mental health. When they said that there is a really negative voice in their mind leading them, I kept telling them to stop thinking those thoughts and try to think positively and look more on the bright side — as if they haven’t tried. Their response was a punch to me:
“Well … Ok then … I don’t know what I was expecting.”
Looking back, the realization of my ignorance instantly hit me. I realized that I was comforting them without completely understanding the depth of their pain. I didn’t realize the severity and extent of the situation they were in. I had tried to put myself in their situation and think in their position of how I would deal with myself under certain pressure and conditions, which caused me to view their reaction as dramatic. I remember that at that moment, I wanted to support and console them, but due to my lack of understanding with the subject, there was no way. I was oblivious to what mental health is to the core; it was not something I had been exposed to.
Being brought up in an Asian community, mental health is a taboo topic to be discussed. Asian families rarely talk about the causes and effects of mental health as well as the different components and significance of this sensitive subject. I remember conversing with my family about some of the stories where negative mental health affected the lives of individuals as well as those around them.
The responses I usually get were that the individual’s life and background were so unfortunate and it made sense that they’d think so negatively, or although they were in an awful situation, it was foolish to commit suicide, because ending their own lives cut short their potential future ahead. My parents also added that thankfully we’re fortunate to be living such good lives; there’s nothing to complain about or be ungrateful for. This mindset of thinking clouded my perception of mental health. I couldn’t fully recognize warnings and didn’t take mental health very seriously, because I never considered it happening to people at such a young age.
On the bright side, however, it can be seen that there’s a new direction for mental health awareness within Asian community. The society is gearing towards inclusion and positively, as well as seeking different methods to communicate sensitive topics. The new generation is exposed to numerous cultures and their ideas, which causes them to learn from diversity and have an open mind.
Now, my perspective towards this topic has changed immensely. I came to a realization of the significance of having a good and healthy state of mind as well as how detrimental mental health can be. I’m now aware of my surroundings on the signs and warning of individuals reaching out for help. Noticing my wrongdoings is just the first step, and there’s so much more I can do and learn about.