“How can you kids feel depressed, you all have everything nowadays”, “It is just a phase”, “Stop being lazy”. These are just some of the things you may hear as an AAPI youth if you share your mental health experiences. As an Indian American myself, I wanted to delve deeper into my observations on how cultural and generational trauma in the community may potentially exacerbate mental health issues and prevent getting treatment.
Now, what exactly is generational trauma? Facing systemic exploitation, dealing with racism and traumatic situations, and overcoming poverty can all contribute to an intergenerational culture that leads a generation, in turn, to trivialize mental health issues in the next generation and perpetuate them inadvertently. For example, a parent may be cold and detached from their kid because they were raised in the same way or because they ignore the mental health-related issues of their children, having gone through many sufferings themselves to succeed in life. Eventually, without intervention or awareness, the kid may grow up not sharing their mental health issues or seeking help.
There may also be the presence of achievement expectations. We face a greater pressure to be the “model minority” from general American stereotypes by reaching academic heights to gain respectability, credibility, and a new future for our families. This desire to excel and achieve is prevalent in the community. The desire to continue to excel and be “Faster, Higher, Stronger” may take its toll on one’s mental health.
In my Hindu-American culture, we have the concept of dharma or responsibility to your family and society. Although this creates a great sense of connection and provides a strong moral compass, a sense of belonging, and a support system, it may also create a subconscious need to put your family's honor and needs above your own. In some extreme cases, this may mean ignoring toxic and detrimental parts of your family or keeping completely silent and not bringing “dishonor” to the family.
Generational trauma may be accentuated by other factors such as gender expectations. In my experience, being a girl and an Indian American comes with stressors such as fulfilling gender norms (for example, learning to cook and fitting beauty standards to perfection) as well as greater scrutiny among elders about appearance and behavior that a boy in the community wouldn’t necessarily experience.
I have also observed a general lack of education in the AAPI community about mental health and mental illness from a personal standpoint.
Generational trauma added on to the “model minority” and gender stereotypes, and other causes of trauma all exacerbate the mental health issues of AAPI youth. In order to step away from this, greater awareness about the reality of mental health issues is absolutely necessary to get rid of the stigma involved with getting help.
Nambita Sahai is a high school junior at Crystal Springs Uplands School. She is deeply involved in mental health advocacy and is an outreach intern and a student ambassador at Neolth. She is the president of STEM, Premed, and Bio-Med clubs at her high school and is involved in many organizations as a leader, volunteer, teachers' assistant, and tutor.
Nambita is a part of Neolth's Student Mental Health Ambassador Program, spanning across the globe with a network of over 300 students. Ambassadors participate in various forms of mental health advocacy, including sharing their stories, like CJ, to reduce stigma, educate others, and spread awareness about mental health. We are proud to display the incredible work they do!