Story from: A.E. | Words: Shona Yang | Cover Art: @thelinegirl
In 2011, I decided to take my life.
I had been struggling with depression my entire life and I would tell my parents that I wake up sad every day, but they would call me weak.
“What do you mean ‘sad’? Just suck it up. It’s embarrassing,” they’d say.
It was hard to hear. The emotions I’ve been feeling over the years have been real but their response made my emotions invalid. It kept wearing me down and degrading my mental health. The attempt failed but I was arrested and taken to a mental health unit at Campbelltown Hospital.
After I was released, my parents told me not to tell anyone about the ‘shameful incident’. Mum hid it from everyone– even my grandparents thought I was just busy with study. They didn’t want to be perceived as bad parents because people would think they didn’t do a good job of parenting and that was why I tried to take my life. It was all about keeping up with appearances.
For my parents, mental health doesn’t exist. Caucasians are a little bit more open talking about mental health because emotions are important to them but in terms of my Asian and Pacific Islander culture, it’s about suffering in silence. We’re told, ‘don’t let anybody else know.’
Not all my friends know what I’ve gone through. They’d tell you that I’m the happiest person in the world. I’ve learned that from my parents. Australians seem a bit more open to talking about these things and it’s less taboo because emotions are important to them but in my family and in my experience, emotions are a weakness.
The gender stereotype also makes it harder for men. Most men would say ‘just get over it princess’ but with the added cultural layer, it’s worse. My grandfather was the village chief. The role comes with pride and image so I had to hide every weakness I had. In terms of emotions, it had to be gone. I had to be happy and I couldn’t show anything other than that because of my family’s heritage.
Growing up, I didn’t think there was anyone else. I thought it was just me. Everyone has the exact same thing going on but because it’s such a taboo topic, no one talks about it so no one knows. Everyone thinks they’re on their own.
I’ve reached a turning point in my life where I’m comfortable talking about it. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for three years and although the systems aren’t adequate for Asians, it does help to talk to someone so seek the help.