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Stigma of Depression in Asia

Updated on July 4, 2019
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Fairlane is a devout Asian entertainment fan. On the side, she is a professional screenplay writer and author.

Mental health struggle is not a popular concept in Asia. Shrinks don’t garner good business in that part of the globe. Asia so have the lowest recorded mental health problems but the operative word? Recorded. Just because it’s not documented doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The aversion to it, however, is embedded in our history in culture.

#1 Family Equates Love, Attention & Understanding

All you need is love, right? The bond of Asian families are tighter. People rarely leave their family both physically and emotionally. From childhood, unlike in most Western countries, Asians are not told they have to leave the home when they get to college. It’s the opposite. Asian children are conditioned to stick with their family. That bond is a lifetime of reinforcement. Aside from the usual national holidays, some of which lasts more than a week and all of which are celebrated with family, each family or clan create their own family-only tradition.

This develops a sense of dependence and bond. Staying together has become some sort of an unspoken mantra.

It is that togetherness, having someone with you no matter what, that support system, that is supposed to fill your emotional needs. The need for attention, recognition, help, savior, provider, everything you need or want. Whatever the shrink can do, they can do better, and they’re free… at least it appears to be.

#2 Your Purpose is Set From Childhood

It is common for kids in Asia to be conditioned on what you will end up becoming. If you’re a filipino, you become a nurse. If you’re Chinese, you become rich. If you’re Korean, you will become a pop star. It’s just how we roll.

That purpose is supposed to keep you in line, live with a purpose. You keep on moving forward. That’s what you are supposed to concentrate on. Not your past, you can’t change that. Just go be a nurse or rich or be BTS.


#3 Mental Health is a Luxury

If there is something to be funded, priority will be on physical health. Studies are directed toward basic health issues. There are so many countries where healthcare is non-existent. If you get sick, you just die. Here, you can get admitted and released from the hospital without spending a single cent. In some Asian countries, you have to donate the body for research if someone died in your family and you have no money to pay for it. It’s that bad.

In terms of urgency, people would rather put money on basic survival. Anything not related to basic needs is deemed a luxury.

Plus, minimum wage isn’t much in Asia. Sure, the cost of living is low but compensation is even lower. Salaries are hardly enough to put food on the table, imagine having to pay a shrink.

#4 It’s Just Drama

Older generation is not informed or educated about mental health because of reasons 1, 2, and 3. Life was too busy and to manual for them to think of anything else other than daily chores. They have no direct experience on depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder and other mental health related issues. It’s not tangible but their daily chore is.

Couple this with strong religious beliefs, they credit mental health issues to either evil spirits or just being an attention whore.
If you eat three times a day, has food on your back and roof over your head, anything more than that and you’re just a drama queen… or king. This is in no way a shade to parents or grandparents.

Understand that this is centuries of way of living. Add to the fact that mental health is not something tangible, like a broken bone or Tuberculosis, it’s harder to grasp.

#5 It’s a coverup for your failure

Aside from being a drama queen, people think Asians use it to cover up for failures. Asian parents are known for having high expectations on their children. Failure is unacceptable. The only way, really, that failure is unacceptable. You can’t exactly inure yourself and you probably wouldn’t want that.

Mental health problems are the most viable excuse because it is not tangible. It's not some disorder that can be verified with blood tests and MRI. To them, it can be faked.

#6 There is Nothing Stronger Than Your Faith

Regardless of which part of Asia, regardless of the country, religion is a big part of that country and the more conservative the religion is, the more powerful its influence in your life is. That power is enough to get you through anything. Whatever you need, your scripture should be able to provide it.

I know it is odd how people just accept that cancer happens or diabetes happens. Sure, they pray for the best but not necessarily expect faith to cure it but with mental health, faith is supposed to squash it like a cockroach.

#7 Gratitude and Humility

Because most Asian countries came from poverty, the act of wanting for something else and not being contented when you have enough seems an ungrateful act. Your family, the love for your family, for your profession, whatever that may be, and the love you receive is supposed to be enough.

Asians should just concentrate on the blessings. After all, there are a lot of others out there who aren't given half of what we have.

#8 Psychological not Physiological

I’ve mentioned previously, it’s not tangible. It isn’t until recently that research about how hormones can change your behavior to the point where you can’t control it. For the longest time, it’s all psychological. You change the way you think then you change the way you behave. It’s that simple. It’s not a broken bone or ulcer or Tuberculosis. All these are physiological condition. Mental illness isn’t. It’s puzzling because it’s an accepted fact that the brain controls everything in our body but it’s still so hard to understand how the brain can also cause you to act out of what they perceive to be normal.

#9 It will Burden or Worry the Parents

Asian children are devoted children and when our parents grow old, we just want them to enjoy life. We don’t want them to worry or think they did something wrong with the way they brought us up because what for? Most of them are so devoted to being parents that they will blame themselves because for them, we can’t make a mistake. We are perfect children. If something goes wrong, they are the ones to blame.


#10 Mental Health care is not a priority in general

There are very few countries with a solid health care in Asia. In the Philippines, unless you belong to multinational companies, health benefits is rarely a 100% coverage. For those countries who have their health care program in place, they give priority to providing excellent physical health care because that seems to be more important.

Plus it is simply a young issue that’s being put forward and in light of all the other issues that we need to face, poverty, threat from other countries, education, and even the basic necessities, it’s not easy

Some Headway

The "trend" of more and more celebrities and influencers coming forward to talk about their mental struggles is encouraging a conversation. Although thousands of years of tradition will take more than hundreds of celebrities to change, it is a start. The key is every generation to keep pushing it forward until people are unable to deny its legitimacy and urgency.

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