Why I’m mad: Asia’s stigma against depression:

asian stigma against depression

This is a rant.

When I first reached out to my doctor about my depression, I went through a lot of questions with him. All of them were fairly easy to answer.

D: Do you feel tired all the time?
K: Yeah, I guess.
D: How’s sleeping?
K: It’s hard to fall asleep, and then when I do, I usually get stressful nightmares. Honestly, I’m really tired because I can’t sleep.

It goes on, and I knew the answers to most of these prompts from the doctor. Then came this question:

Does depression run in your family? 

Well… no one I knew of in my family was diagnosed with depression. But taking a closer look at it, there was a period of time that I was certain my mom was really depressed. My grandma on my dad’s side also lived most of her life dealing with anxiety. My dad himself is very closed off and gets irrationally angry and lashes out.

That’s when I was brought face to face with the unhealthy ways people in Asia deal with depression. Now that I’m back in North America, I’m pretty lucky. When I first met depression, I refused to seek help. My parents never encouraged it either. It wasn’t until it hit again a few years later that I took a stand and realized I’d need a better way to cope with this, since it’s obviously going to be a part of my life.

It’s funny—I thought I had conquered depression the first time. I fought it, slayed my inner demons and they’re gone for good. Then I learned it didn’t work that way. Some people are just depression-prone, and it’s just a chemical imbalance they’ll have to learn to live with.

The incident that ignited this rant is because I learned that one of my cousins recently became depressed. He’s in this bad place in life right now. He lost his job, his girlfriend, and recently his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Worst of all? He lives in Asia.

Depression is seen as an embarrassing disease in Asia. There’s a strong stigma against falling into depression. It shows weakness and laziness. Life’s hard, get on with the program, they say. If you are depressed, don’t you dare go seek help. Imagine if other people know you had to see a therapist! Then you’re a certified crazy.

It’s such an unhealthy way of life. I’m not just saying that everyone in Asia needs to be diagnosed. I’m just hoping that there’s a more accepting way of dealing with and supporting people who are in depression. Instead of shunning and looking down on them.

I have two aunts in Hong Kong who are urging my cousin to go to a doctor. One of these aunts recognized that she was depressed quite a few years ago when her mother passed away. She mustered up the courage to go see a therapist. She then convinced her sister to go to the doctor too because she could see her sister exhibiting the same signs she had seen in herself. It’s so brave of her to have done all this. And I cannot thank both of them enough for urging my cousin to see someone now.

Sadly, my cousin’s own mother is telling him not to go. She doesn’t want him to have to rely on pills, she says. Imagine how hard it is. Admitting there’s something wrong with you and actively going to seek help is hard enough to do on your own. Now the woman who gave birth to you is heeding you against it. Well, that’s that then I suppose.

It makes me furious that something as simple as learning how to deal with a part of yourself in a healthier way is stigmatized in Asia. I don’t know what has to happen until things can take a change for the better. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a weak North American girl who succumbed to her “sadness” and sought professional help so she’s more equipped to deal with future attacks. What a loser.

Some other links:
Buzzfeed: What It’s Like Explaining Depression to Asian Parents

This Reddit thread of how many people agree with the original poster’s cry for help makes me really sad


5 thoughts on “Why I’m mad: Asia’s stigma against depression:

  1. wallcat says:

    The fact that it’s stigmatized makes it all the harder to learn how to cope with it. I didn’t realize it was thought of in such a way in Asia, but I find that even where I come from people aren’t always understanding. My parents can be quite dismissive of my feelings and opinions. They either change the subject, tell me to ignore it, snap at me and twist things to make it all about them or turn it around to be my fault (you just haven’t slept enough or been on the computer too much.) I don’t think they mean it, but they themselves are probably also struggling with things. I don’t agree with that way of dealing with it though. I don’t agree with making people feel bad or guilty for feeling a certain way. It just becomes yet another criticism that devalues a person’s thoughts and feelings that they have a right to have. It led me to writing this https://myinnergeekblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/negativity-towards-negative-emotions/. I agree, I think some of us are more prone to it and the support and advice of a doctor can help us to learn how to live with it. There are other techniques and it doesn’t just have to involve being on medication. Cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness for instance. Although I know some people who have taken anti-depressants and have found them to be helpful. If there is a preference it’s a good idea to be clear with your doctor about the different options you can try.

    • kalyrical says:

      Yeah, I think it’s so important to be more knowledgable about it. I opted not to go on medication, but like you said, there’s other ways to lessen it through healing processes.
      Like you say in your post, most people so their time pushing negative emotions aside. But if it’s swept under the rug, you eventually feel so helpless. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

      • wallcat says:

        I was the same and requested not to get put on medication. Sometimes I worry that they can be too quick to rush to this treatment without discussing other options first.

  2. MrJohnson says:

    Yeah, I don’t think Asian parents give any recognition to depression until it’s severe. If I had to guess though, I think the bulk of them have been depressed most of their lives because of poverty and a hard life. To them being depressed is normal. None of my friends parents smiled until the year 2005.

    I think it’s a good idea to not rush into medication. It’s definitely not a good long term solution unless if there’s no other choice. I know a few people who depended on them(anti-depressants and sleeping pills) for several years and the results are depressing. It’s good that you took the step to talk to someone about what you were going through.

    • kalyrical says:

      Yeah, it doesn’t quite make sense for a generation who probably has had (or still are in) depression for their kids to seek help. They got through life fine. They’re still alive. Why waste the extra money? Why be looked down upon? It’s just not the same mentality.

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