By: Srilekha Cherukuvada
When I first began researching for this article, I noticed a couple things about the statistics. In charts with age 18 or older Asian Americans, most Asian Americans felt significantly better than non-Hispanic White Americans. There was a smaller trend in people who reported that they had felt worthless or useless. There was a smaller number of people that reported feeling depressed or received prescription medicines for mental illnesses.
“Reported” does not mean that they were all truthful. That’s the sad truth about mental health research. You never know for sure if the person was being honest. Were they dramatizing their temporary sadness or were they trying to cover up the dread from feeling depressed?
This is why I decided to stop using statistics to support my argument, but instead, use my personal experiences to explain my viewpoint, rather than defend an argument.
My close friends’ family moved from Michigan to Texas when one was in 7th grade and the other was in 9th grade. It crushed all of us. The 7th grader recovered pretty quickly, surprisingly. She started to make friends and by the time she got into 8th grade, she was actually really happy with Texas. The 9th grader, on the other hand, never started making true friends. Her friends were rude and gossiped. They barely acknowledged her, much less me. It seemed like they didn’t even care about her.
I think that’s where all of the problems started- her friends. Her friends were like poison in her life and eventually, it started affecting her mind. She hated Texas. She hated her dark house and how their faucets didn’t work right. She hated the kitchen and she hated the living room. She hated her sisters’ room and its yellowness and she hated her room and the dimness. She hated nearly everything, except for her family and me of course.
She fell into a deep hole soon enough. She would cry nearly every day. She exercised in her room, obsessed with her weight. She watched tv and binge ate entire boxes of oreo cookies because she was so stressed, she just couldn’t handle it. One time, it got so bad that she called me and told me about her suicidal thoughts. She then took the car from her mother and drove around for a while. We were worried sick about her.
She goes to therapy once in a while, not that it helped. There was just nothing we could do; we felt helpless.
And of course, not all Asians go through this same, exact experience. But some factors of her life, typical Asians do go through. For example, stress was a constant in her life. She slaved over her hours of homework every night throughout her entire high school career to get that IB diploma. She studied through the night for a single test just to keep her gpa up and stay in the top 10% at school. And what did all of that stress get her. A crap load of mental and physical health problems.
But a lot of Asians have to deal with even worse. Other parents have higher expectations than this. Other parents want their children to be number one, not the top 10%. Other parents want all 100s. Other parents want perfection. Unfortunately, that is what has been the trend in Asian Americans since before I was born.
So when I researched again, I didn’t research how many people were feeling this way, but who. What were their backgrounds? Why did they feel this way? Who were they? I didn’t look for numbers the second time through; I looked for people.
Malaysian, South Bay, Indian, Japanese, South Korean, Chinese immigrants. There were countless stories, one after another. The rates didn’t matter anymore. It didn’t matter that Asians made up more than half of the world’s suicides or that Asians actually have a significantly lower suicide rate in the US than other races. It wasn’t all about the rate or the race anymore. This was when the lines blurred and countless Asian people became just people.
People who were held to high expectations. People who cracked under the pressure. People who couldn’t bear the pain of life anymore. Everyone has troubles, not just Asian Americans. But instead of giving up, we should all be proud of our troubles. We should be able to stand up and say ‘I endured this. I lived through the pain and survived.’ That is the ultimate goal in life. And in the end, we should have no regrets from enduring it all.
The mental health of Asian-Americans as a race might not be as interesting as I thought it would be back when I first started writing this. What is truly more important and impactful in this world is not understanding why and what happens specifically to Asian-Americans. It’s how we can prevent it, not just in Asian-Americans, but in everyone. How can we change the overall mental health of everyone?
Srilekha Cherukuvada is a junior at Westwood High School in Austin, Texas. She loves to write, read, edit, and play the flute. She hopes to attend Northwestern University and major in Communication Studies. She also has a deep passion for social justice and marketing and is an avid DECA member at school.