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Asian Mental Health Stigma: I Hate Talking About It

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

This blog is a follow up to my newsletter that discusses how Western cultures steal Asian healing practices. You can access that newsletter here.

So a quick summary of where I left off: There are inconsistent narratives when it comes to Asian cultures and mental health.

On one hand, there’s the narrative that Asian traditions are great for healing and mental health. And in recent times, there’s almost a culty reverence to practices such as mindfulness, meditation, herbal medicine, and yoga. (For info about how Western culture has stolen Asian healing practices, click here).

But also, for some reason, when we talk about Asian mental health, the narrative seems to centre around the stigma of mental health in Asian cultures.

It’s like saying, Asian culture has great health and healing practices. But Asian culture doesn’t know how to use their traditional knowledge. So the West has to teach Asians how to use it. It’s so fucking paternalizing.

But let’s be real here. Does mental health stigma exist in Asian communities? It absolutely does. But it also exists everywhere else. Including Western culture. The history of Western psychology and psychiatry involved institutionalizing people, shock therapy, tying people down, and also had transphobic stuff like Gender Identity Disorder.

So why is the narrative focused on mental health stigma in Asian communities? The simple answer is that it serves to blame the struggles of Asian communities on ourselves.

We KNOW that anti-Asian racism affects our community’s mental health: xenophobia, model minority myth, perpetual foreigners, hyper-sexualization of Asian women, emasculation of Asian men…so on and so forth.

But the focus on the narrative of mental health stigma in Asian communities allows white supremacy to absolve their sins. And really, to hide the fact that racism is an ever-present force that negatively impacts our mental health.

This is why in our journey towards mental health wellness, we need to infuse clear understanding of racism and structural oppression. It is part of our healing, to understand that we are not to blame for the racism and oppressions that we experience.

Understandings of racism and structural oppression is just as integral to understand our mental health, as much as things like trauma and intergenerational trauma, attachment styles/wounds, experiences of abuse and neglect, and so on and so forth.

To truly understand ourselves, to heal, and to improve our mental well-being, we need to have the full story of our lives. So don’t let white supremacy shame you into thinking that it is your culture’s fault for your mental health struggles. There are much more happening, and many more connections we need to make.

You’re not just a by-product of your culture. You’re a complex, vibrant, and powerful individual. You may not always feel like that. But it’s there, deep inside you. And it’s waiting for you to explore it.

As always, thanks for tuning in. If you found this helpful, share with your peeps. You can also get my free Asian Survival Guide.

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Harry Au

Therapy for Asians

MSW, RSW | he/him

I help Asians go from feeling trapped to becoming self-liberated.

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