AMONG other things, the month of May is an important month for two observances: celebrating Asian American heritage and spreading mental health awareness.
In the United States, Asian Pacific American History Month (APAHM) and Mental Health Awareness Month is celebrated in May to continue the difficult, but necessary conversations on both of these urgent subjects.
As anybody who is lucky alive today understands, the last two years have given the world enough grief, tragedy, loss, and frustration to last a lifetime.
A recent CDC report on a survey of high school students revealed that 55.1% describe suffering emotional abuse, 44.2% reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness and 9% attempted suicide. Moreover, young women and girls as well as LGBTQ+ youth — across all racial backgrounds — are more likely to attempt suicide.
According to Angela Vasquez, a policy director for mental health at The Children’s Partnership, about half of all children “who are severely impaired with a major depressive episode did not receive” any form of mental health treatment.
Depression, as most mood disorders, thrives on stealth and concealment; the more you hide and avoid the problem, the bigger it becomes.
Even though the coronavirus pandemic seemed to escalate things like depression, anxiety, and general mood disorders, these issues — along with an unwillingness to confront them — have always been pressing, albeit not-often-addressed problems within the community
“It’s kind of funny that it’s a month for both Asian Americans and normalizing mental health because both those ideas together are like oil and water — they don’t necessarily mix,” Ravi Villeno, a Filipino American who lives in San Diego, California, told the Asian Journal in a phone interview.
Villeno — who is also Sri Lankan — shared that within his family unit, communicating emotions never felt very safe because of rather hostile way his parents responded. He said that his parents explained his falling grades and overall unproductivity as mere laziness rather than taking the gentle approach of talking it out calmly and seeking professional help.
But Villeno noted that the community, the affluent coastal town of Del Mar in which he grew up in, didn’t make it very conducive to healthy conversations about self-care, toxic communication patterns, boundaries, and therapy.
And Villeno is far from the only Filipino American who felt suffocated by a community that made it difficult to sort out mental health problems.
“Growing up in a pretty wealthy area — which had many Asian families deadset on upholding the model minority myth, including mine which was obsessed with displaying a picture-perfect image — didn’t make for the right environment to express myself,” said Jerianne Morales, a Filipina American.
Morales, 24, was born and raised in Tustin, California, and she knew from an early age that her parents worked tirelessly to present the image of a stable family with children who did exceptionally well in school — a desire not uncommon among Asian families in the U.S.
“Even though there were a lot of Asians, and Filipinos, around me, and even though there’s a sense of community in that, it never really felt like a space where I could be vulnerable and real,” said Morales, who earned a Master in Social Work and is working toward being a licensed clinical social worker.
She acknowledged that her parents, and many first- and second-generation immigrants, simply don’t have the vocabulary and the tools to handle conflict and difficult situations. Rather than having genial and productive conversations to hash problems out, they turned to accusational language and tone which most likely will make children feel alienated.
“Instead of punitively yelling at your child, ‘why did you get a D on this assignment? You failed this assignment! I told you to study more!’ you can opt for a more measured, solutions-based approach, like, ‘Oh, I see you got a D on this assignment. What are you having trouble with, and what do you think we can do to make sure you understand your class assignments?’” Morales offered.
She added, “If your child isn’t doing well in school, it’s likely due to some mental blocks, which, of course, doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with them. It’s completely normal.”
As previously mentioned in the Asian Journal, the Asian community is vast, a populace and diaspora that encompasses nearly half the planet. It’s a Herculean task to try to aggregate information, trends, and philosophies for a community that encompasses hundreds of unique cultures, languages, religions and traditions.
But in the U.S., experts posit that families within the Asian American diaspora share similar sensibilities when it comes to parenting. The classic conflict between traditionally Asian principles of collectivism versus the American ideal of individualism remains present in Asian American parenting styles: immaculate grades in school mean entrance into a prestige college, which leads to a successful career in, typically, medicine, law, or other fields that promise, not just financial security, but wealth.
But what happens when a child doesn’t share those same values? The conflict that arise from these differences can be severe, but listening and treating these problem-solving methods as a collaboration may help.
“I think that the more that parents hide and demonize emotions and neglect to actually listen to their kids, the more damage they’re actually doing,” Phillip Solomon, a Filipino American social worker based in the Bay Area, told the Asian Journal.
He said, “Child psychology almost always starts with the parents.”
The way that parents communicate to their children and the nuances of the language they use is far more impactful than parents may think, Solomon said. He added that punitive measures to ensure that a teenager doesn’t get into any perceived “bad” hindrances like, say, dating or partying only do more to encourage rebellious behavior.
Opting for more actionable approaches and solutions-based language can be the first step in improving relationships between parents and children, which, of course, is essential keeping a child mentally and emotionally stable.
“As a parent, patience can tend to run thin pretty quickly, which can lead to some unhelpful communication patterns” Solomon said. “But at the end of the day, our children are No. 1 in our lives as parents, and when we say that we would do anything for our kids, that includes appropriately and gently leading productive conversations where we treat our children, not as kids, but as the adults that they are going to become.” (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)