This post was written by Aliza Lopez, one of Neolth's Student Mental Health Ambassadors. We thank her for sharing her story to help eliminate the stigma around mental health.
While important to acknowledge that all stances and experiences with mental health vary, many individuals who have identified as part of the AAPI community are no stranger to the ongoing stigma in this field. With strong desires to preserve the image of a family’s lineage and reputation, cultures have persistently denied negative mental health experiences as something that should be recognized and approached: often seeing it as a taboo topic.
From my perspective, many parents in the general AAPI community have referred to mental struggles purely as a label. Adolescents and young adults of Generation Z — of which many descend from immigrants or refugees — currently comprise a significant fraction of the population suffering from one or more mental illnesses. Rather than being an indicator of urgent treatment, which ranges from various medications to therapies, many individuals’ internal struggles have merely been overlooked as “confused,” “psycho,” “spastic,” “crazy,” and even a “problem” — as found by a study from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London (Rose et al., 2007) to be some of many labels used to commonly describe those with mental conditions.
Alarmingly, this study was conducted fifteen years ago in 2007. In a progressive and growing society, our time to destigmatize mental health experiences in any group — a universal subject that every global citizen faces differently — has been long overdue.
Some traditional views in the AAPI community have misconstrued the severity and narrative of mental health greatly. Due to preconceived ideas on this subject, I’ve also observed that many individuals with mental health struggles refuse to seek treatment out of a possible “mark of shame,” often stemming from cultural judgments. We should not be called to continuously invalidate the condition of any individual, which may potentially put them at risk for a worsening mental state. As mental health is just as significant a priority as physical and emotional health, it should be nurtured with consideration, self-care practices, and a robust support system to promote healthy management without the burden of navigating through these conditions alone.
As a first-generation Filipino-American, I’ve found a similar, relatable ground with those who have felt disconnected from their ethnic heritage. Many have identified with “near assimilation”, a phenomenon that many first-generation students and individuals have related to. For instance, while some individuals may only understand their family’s native language, their inability to proficiently speak it with others has placed this linguistic barrier on their shoulders. Internally, the question of guilt and being seen as an imposter arises: Would such an integral aspect of their culture — one that has been eloquently articulated for ages — be discontinued because of me?
Original cultures have always been heavily respected. For many AAPI individuals, it remained an open door that if they weren’t “Asian enough,” they weren’t “good enough” to embody their family’s and country’s wondrous, diverse values and ideals.
For an honorable custom that is preserved throughout one’s lineage, and considering that language is highly interconnected with practices, some populations have equated their experience of not being able to always identify with how Asian culture was portrayed with being personally “lesser”. With the adoption of Westernized and Americanized traditions, which have contributed to individuals’ varied thought processes about their upbringing and background, the standard of not being a “true” Asian frequently causes discord in personal identity.
The reassuring fact for me, however, is that many of my other family, friends, and acquaintances were in a similar position. This is more common than my initial assumption. This realization validated that this cultural struggle was reflected in a greater community — rather than only impacting me.
Though the drive to fully involve myself in my Filipino values is still in sight — taking steps to accept and fulfill any personal gaps of my rich heritage — all individuals should recognize that such a process is gradual and nonlinear. Our experiences are as diverse as our community itself, especially with the remarkable representation of AAPI members and history that should be embraced.
Aliza Lopez is a rising high school senior from New Jersey, pursuing the top STEM Academy pathway. With a third eye for community development, she takes part in many avenues that merge STEAM, gender and educational equities, and SDGs together: an aim to create meaningful innovations. With an eye toward solving generational issues, Aliza hopes to increase representation in workforces and multidisciplinary areas — finding that DEI efforts embody these goals well.
As a proponent of the sciences, she currently co-directs the 501(c)(3) organization, Medicine Encompassed; her leadership efforts have designated her as the 2021 T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge Grand Prize Winner in Education and a Lifetime President’s Volunteer Service Award recipient. With her interdisciplinary interests in public health, mental health, medical sociology, and neuroscience, Aliza aspires to become a neurosurgeon (or work in the intersection of health, technology, and entrepreneurship).
She is currently working at a behavioral and data science laboratory at Dartmouth College to analyze various biomarkers, also having completed a project on neurogenetics and biological pathways in the past. Aliza’s work additionally lies in global outreach and Generation Z campaigns, especially as a Copywriter and Consultant at JUV Consulting. After extensive participation in nonprofit organizations and advocacy in communities, she hopes to break the glass ceiling for student involvement and spearheading impact in these areas. In addition to the medical field, Aliza is interested in the concept of cultural competence, social equity, gender and sex distinctions in healthcare, biostatistical methods, and social determinants of health.
Rose, D., Thornicroft, G., Pinfold, V., & Kassam, A. (2007). 250 labels used to stigmatise people with mental illness. BMC health services research, 7, 97. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-7-97.