May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the last few months, many of us have spent extra time indoors and with family. Being with family 24/7, having limited opportunities to socialize, sudden changes to daily schedules, and less personal time (and personal space) can be challenging. Mental health issues can make this even harder. It can even cause rifts between families stretching familial ties to the breaking point. I know for many Asian American families, like my own, we don’t talk about mental health, let alone how I or any family member has suffered with it.
Mental health is an important subject that we must all pay attention to. Guy Winch, in a TED Talk, explained how mental health is as, if not more, important for us to maintain than physical health. After all, we face failure, anxiety, and loneliness far more often than we face broken bones and disease. The question is why don’t we talk about it despite how prevalent it is?
The answer is simple: stigma
Throughout history, the mentally ill have been mistreated horribly by governments and even their own families because of their illness. One would even say “there is no country, society or culture where people with mental illness have the same societal value as people without a mental illness”. Stigma is powerful, harmful, and can ostracize those suffering from depression, OCD, borderline personality disorder, or other mental health illnesses.
As the 2010s began, we saw a dramatic increase in the acceptance of mental health disorders, partly because of how accepting Generation Z is. We still see bullying and abuse on the basis of mental health illness in homes and schools, however, and our job won’t be done until that has been eradicated.
With this in mind, we can see how behavioral norms, even within families, might create hostile environments for relatives with mental health disorders because of their ingrained stigma.
If you don’t feel safe talking to a family member about your mental health struggles, don’t bottle it in. That is far more dangerous than talking to someone. There are avenues for help in a confidential fashion:
- Many elementary/middle/high schools have school counselors trained in talking to students suffering from mental health issues. Talking to counselors, whether at school or at a separate facility, is completely confidential and no one will be able to know what you and your counselor discuss.
- Mental health hotlines exist in many different countries and for almost every mental health illness you can think of. People on these hotlines are there 24/7 to talk to you and help you while maintaining confidentiality on every discussion. Here is a link to a list of US help line resources. (There is no one perfect hotline and I am not endorsing any one of them. However, if you decide this is best for your situation, call one.)
- Some schools even have a program where you can talk to a licensed counselor at an outside facility for free. These are confidential as well.
If you have concerns about someone’s mental health, don’t hesitate to talk to them. Always check in with your friends and make sure they are doing okay. It is not your responsibility by any means to cure them or counsel them. However, having a conversation with a friend can be the difference between whether or not they engage in self harm that day.
Mental health is extremely important and heavily overlooked in our world. We need to pay attention to those in need of mental health support, especially if that someone is you.
Vidya is a youth volunteer with YVC in Des Moines and member of YVCHQ’s International Youth Advisory Board.
If you or someone you know is struggling, resources are available free and available 24/7.
- Call: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK; En Español, 1-888-682-9454
- Text: Crisis Text Line, 741-741
- Online: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/