Embracing Mental Health: A Journey of Resilience and Understanding for All
July 6, 2023
by Connie Rim
“You speak good English!”
As a Korean woman living in the United States, I often received this comment. Little did they know, I was actually born in Detroit, Michigan. My parents had immigrated from South Korea, but I only knew life in the United States. So, I would jokingly reply, “Well … I speak English well.” Connie 1, Ignorant Person 0.
Growing up, I encountered numerous Asian stereotypes: being good at math (I was not), being subservient (I am not), working hard and staying quiet (yes and no), and not showing emotions (wait, what?). Clearly, I hadn’t received the “How to be Asian” manual.
I was raised in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood. Despite my efforts to fit in, I felt different every single day. The mocking and name-calling at school often left me in tears, even though I put on a smile and fake laughter in public. This was the beginning of my struggle with depression.
Whenever I confided in my parents about the racism I faced, they would advise me not to react, assuring me that it would stop. Unfortunately, it didn’t, and I spiraled into a deepening depression. At the age of 14, with the help of my father’s connections, I began seeing a Child Psychologist and was diagnosed with Major Depression.
It was 1986, and mental health disorders were still heavily stigmatized. Being Asian with a mental illness was considered embarrassing. I was even told not to disclose to anyone that I was seeing a therapist for depression—not to my friends, not even to my relatives. I felt ashamed. Adding to my anguish, I attended an all-Korean church where parents regularly boasted about their children’s achievements. I felt like I had let my parents down. I felt worthless, and my mental health deteriorated further. At 18, I was severely depressed and even contemplated suicide. In fact, I spent my 19th birthday during the 2-week stay as a patient in a psychiatric ward.
Throughout the following decades, I battled with recurring bouts of depression. However, as I learned to embrace my mental health, society began to embrace it too. Thanks to the courage of many individuals, including celebrities, who spoke out about their own struggles, mental illness gradually became less of an exception and more of a norm.
Admittedly, many Asians still struggle to speak openly and honestly about their mental health. They view it as a flaw rather than an opportunity to raise awareness. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my experiences, it’s that there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I simply needed to learn better coping skills.
In 2019, I suffered from a rare cerebrospinal fluid leak which has kept me bedridden and in unrelenting pain ever since. There is no doubt that I am battling depression and anxiety once again.
It’s evident from this article that I no longer hide my mental illness. I believe it’s crucial for people to have a grounded and realistic perspective on mental health. Ironically, when someone tries to suppress their illness, they only add to their own suffering. It is those who speak out and seek help who will persevere.
I hope that regardless of ethnic backgrounds and traditional beliefs, people will come to realize that mental illnesses are a part of life. They are not going away, but they can be managed with acceptance and support. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and together we can break the silence surrounding mental health in all communities.
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