AAPI opens dialogue on how mental health is treated in Asian-American Pacific Islander community

Students work on a poster detailing their reactions to the short film Haneri. Photo by Jillian Atelsek

by Jillian Atelsek

On Wednesday evening, students gathered in Stamp Student Union to discuss a topic that they feel needs more attention: mental health in the Asian-American Pacific Islander, or AAPI, community.

The AAPI student group at Maryland holds events and forums across campus aimed at building a strong community that can positively contribute to the University as a whole.

Wednesday’s event showcased a short film, titled Haneri, which is Hindi for “storm.” The film follows the story of a young girl from an Indian-American family who struggles with depression and eventually commits suicide after her family largely dismissed her illness.

Jagjat Kaur, a sophomore enrolled in letters and sciences, was one of the facilitators who helped put the event together.

“We thought it was really important to discuss [mental health] among AAPI communities so that we can bring the different regions together,” she said. “Often, people will be in their cultural groups or their religious groups, but we don’t have as much uniformity as we need.”

She said that she was inspired to hold the event as soon as she saw Haneri, realizing that “there were so many parallels” between the trials faced by the young girl in the film and Kaur’s own experiences.

Sticky notes with ideas about facets of the mental health issue within the AAPI community. Photo by Jillian Atelsek

According to research by the National Latino and Asian American Study, Asian-Americans are less likely to seek help for mental illness than whites. Many students at the event expressed frustration that mental health issues are not taken seriously within their respective cultural communities.

According to Kaur, the stereotype of “the model minority” pushes many AAPI students who struggle with mental illness to suppress their problems and resist seeking help.

In addition, because many AAPI students are the children of immigrants or are immigrants themselves, they feel extra pressure to perform well and make the sacrifice of their families worthwhile. Kaur described this phenomenon as “familial debt.”

The screening of the film was followed by a lively discussion on the subject, and many students said they also felt the stigma in their own communities surrounding mental health issues.

“To be honest, there’s so many different layers to unpack when it comes to… racialized mental health stereotypes,” said Nasreen Baten-Tschan, a senior economics major. Others also felt daunted by the complexity of the issue, including sophomore kinesiology major Victoria Chiu.

Students perform a skit about mental health in the AAPI community. Photo by Jillian Atelsek

“In my community, [this issue] is kind of looked down upon,” Chiu said. “But the more educated people are about it, the more they can help others.”

Despite the difficulty of holding open dialogue about deeply personal issues like mental health, students at the event had hope for a more progressive future.

“Once we come to the table without doing accidental harm to each other, that’s when we can really start to have a conversation,” Baten-Tschan said.


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