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Love Life and Everything in Between: Stigma of Mental Illness

Stigmas in any situation often comes from a lack of understanding or fear. When it comes to mental health, stigmas can cause more than half of people with mental health to not seek help for their disorders because they want to avoid or delay treatment due to concerns about being treated differently or fears of losing their jobs and livelihood.

While the stigma of mental illness is universal, different cultures react to it differently. From my personal experience of being diagnosed with mental illness in Asia, I noticed that the stigma is quite huge in that part of the world because "seeking professional help for mental illness may be counter to cultural values of strong family, emotional restraint and avoiding shame. In my family, that was a very obvious factor when it came to dealing with it. It was to the point of my parents trying to avoid that mental illness was even a thing to begin with.

I come from a family that was not only conservative, but one that was always about "saving face". It was always how we presented ourselves in public, how we dressed, how we acted towards people. While that seems pretty doable, it was the affect on my mental health that took a real hit.

Growing up, I was never good enough. I did not act the way "I was supposed to", I did not dress the way my parents wanted me to, I did not look the way my parents want me to look, etc. I was told that because I was overweight, I would never get a boyfriend, I was told (not asked) to change clothes if it wasn't up to par with what my parents expected. However, when I went to college I was finally able to be who I wanted to be and do what I wanted to do. For four years, I was finally independent and it was great. But, when I got a job offer in Kuala Lumpur, I decided that I would move in with my parents because it saved money and it was convenient. That decision would affect me significantly, but I didn't realize it at the time.

All the behaviors that they had had in the past started coming back, but the difference between the past and that moment was that I became an adult with independence. So, rather than accepting all the negative things they had said, I started fighting back. For people out there that do not know, Asian culture is all about respecting your elders and not talking back. Which meant that my behavior went completely against what the norm of Asian culture was and my parents could not accept it and kept trying to condition me to be like them and the people they surrounded themselves with.

It was after years of being in the house that I finally decided that it was really getting to me. I understood the concept of mental illness, but at the time I did not know the severity of my personal mental illness. All I knew was that I needed to get out of the situation before I personally harmed myself. So, I booked a flight without their knowledge and when they were out of the house, I got a taxi to the airport and was on my way. That decision was probably the best I had made in a long time and ended up living in Thailand for some time. It wasn't until something happened that I needed to call my mother for some help and the only way that she would help me was if I came back home. Since I really needed the help, I agreed with her terms and ended up getting sucked back into all the negative energy.

I ended up getting another job, but living at home again truly started affecting me emotionally, mentally, and physically. It wasn't until one night that I was out with some friends that something in my mind hit me that there was something very wrong with me and I called my mom telling her that I really needed professional help. I needed to be able to talk to someone about my issues. Within a few days, my mom had found a therapist from the States and started going to her once a week. After a few months of talking to her, she called my mom into one of our sessions and decided to tell her what was really going on in my brain. She explained to my mom that I was depressed, potentially suffered from panic/anxiety attacks, and needed a safe space and people to understand what I was going through rather than provoke it.

From that moment, my mom was a bit more understanding and tried to get the most information about mental illness and what my parents could do to support me. My father however, took a different approach. He did not accept the idea that mental health exists. His exact words were "There is no such thing as mental illness, you are just being dramatic." His behavior did not change towards me and quite possibly actually got worse. He even sat in on one of my sessions and tried to debunk everything that the therapist was trying to tell him. That was the moment that my relationship with my father changed. After a few months, the therapist told my mom that it would be beneficial if I went to see a psychiatrist as well so that I could potentially get the medication necessary to deal with my mental illness. When we got there, he already had all my information, but after just one session he told my mother that I also had bipolar disorder.

As supportive as my mom was, there was something that she explicitly told me, she told me never to talk about my problems in public. She didn't want people knowing about my mental health problems because she felt like no one would understand and she would be judged for having a "defective" child. The reality of it was that she just lacked the information that pertained to anything about mental health, she did not understand that there were people all over the world that was going through the same thing I was.

After getting the appropriate medication and it seeming to work, I decided that it was time again to move on. I ended up leaving to go traveling again and that was when I decided to travel full time and work remotely because that was my happy place. At first, traveling was my way of running away from problems but soon it became something that genuinely made me happy.

Stigmas exist for a reason and that needs to be changed. Talking about mental health and being open about it is what gives people the courage to talk about their own. People get influenced by the world around them and if they are in a world where it is safe to talk about these problems, they will most likely seek the help they need.

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