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  • Writer's pictureMaria

"My Family Doesn't Believe in Mental Health"

Have you ever tried to talk to your family about having anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns, and you are met with hearing things like: "it's in your head," "what do you have to be sad about?" "I sacrificed for your education!" "you don't look sad," "just get over it," "if you pray, it'll stop," or "just don't think about it."


Sometimes for mental health, stigma comes along with culture. When our parents move here from countries in which they really struggled, they may say that you've never known real hardship when you tell them about what you've been feeling. This definitely stings when you build up the courage to talk to someone, and they shut you down.


While mental health in the United States has progressively become more acceptable to talk about (especially in the younger generations), for some immigrant families, that shift hasn't happened. Stigma still exists, and depression is seen as 'just being sad,' weakness, or not working hard enough.


Second generation Americans make up a substantial part of our population, and they navigate the line between what is expected within their culture and their own unique experiences.


My husband, Judel, is a second-generation Filipino immigrant who has recently expressed interest in moving toward the mental health field after finishing nursing school. He answered a few questions on his thoughts of mental health and culture.


Question: How did your family view mental health when you were younger?

Judel: It was something that was never discussed. You have to remember, in the Philippines, there are no psychology classes. Mental health is not a thing. Whenever you had a problem, you would just pray to God and hope that he would fix it or answer your prayers.


Q: How are mental health struggles unique to second-generation Americans?

Judel: Being a second-generation American, I deal with being Filipino and being American. We have the highest rates of depression and suicide among Asian Americans. Growing up in a Filipino household, the family unit is the most important thing. You sacrifice what you want to keep the unit happy. This is different from American culture; it's all about individuality and being different. As a second generation Filipino, it's hard to separate the two. At home, you're all about the family but at school or with your friends, you are told to be an individual.


People didn't understand that. While I wanted to find out who I was, there was a voice in the back of my head telling me I'd disappoint my parents. It made me depressed because I wanted to explore and do things for me. I'd have to sacrifice those things constantly. I felt my opinions and beliefs were minimized. I didn't get to always have a voice. On the other side, every self-help book tells you to focus on yourself, and don't dim your light for anyone else. It's confusing.


Q: How is asking for professional help viewed by immigrant families in your experience?

Judel: It reflects very poorly because everything revolves around the family. If one person is seeking help and is requiring medication, then that reflects poorly on the parents. They just don't understand why their children are needing help because they are 'sad.' They can't put themselves in that position and understand; in their eyes, what is so tough about your life? You have a roof over your head. You have food, clothes. You go to school. Whereas, they grew up dirt poor, sharing shoes and underwear with their siblings. If you didn't wake up early enough, you didn't get shoes because they could only afford something. Then they come to America, can't speak English, really struggle to build a life - and in their eyes, nothing is more difficult than that.


As children, we know these are the struggles our parents went through. We know they had to sacrifice. If you grow up in that type of environment, it really minimizes your struggle and thoughts and feelings. Because your emotions are minimized, you don't seek help. You don't speak out. In Filipino culture, children don't really have a voice. We basically have to agree with what our parents say. There was no conversation. As a child of a first-generation Filipino, you don't want to bring shame to your family -- 'hiya' in Tagalog. You never want to disappoint them.


Q: Do you think after years of being here, your family understands mental health more?

Judel: It's still taboo for their generation. They were already set in their ways before they came here, and by the time the concept of mental health comes about, they're already in their 50's and 60's. That's the age when their kids are finally old enough to express these things. It's still new to them. I think part of it is that when kids express feeling depressed, parents feel like a failure, like they didn't do enough to make us happy.


Now for millennials and generation Z, there's this concept now called the platinum rule: treat others how they want to be treated. I think if everyone interacted with people in that way, society would look very different. The concepts of love languages exists now. Not everyone wants to be treated the way that you were treated, or wished you were treated when you were younger. This is a concept new to a lot of first-generation immigrant parents who feel they are loving the best they know how.


Q: What advice would you give to people struggling with communicating with their families about not understanding their mental health?

Judel: It's okay to ask for help. You don't have to do it by yourself. It's okay to be vulnerable, your voice is important too. Don't forget where you came from, but also don't forget that you matter, too.


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