We throw around the phrase “you’re crazy” like hot sauce on cabbage. But what’s it actually mean ? Like what are we talking about even ? Ussssuuuaaalllyy people are referring to or at least alluding to the fact that you have some type of mental illness.
Let’s Talk Crazy: Mental Illness
Mental illness includes several different health conditions that impact and change your emotions, thinking and behavior. Anyone, no matter the demographic, can end up with a mental illness. The criteria for diagnosing a mental disorder is based on guidelines set by the American Psychiatric Association. Everything is put into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The qualifications for diagnosing and categorizing disorders has changed numerous times over the years. The one thing that does remain consistent is the stigma surrounding mental illness and seeking help.
Mental Health Stigma
To understand the stigma regarding mental illness and the way people seek help, it’s important to dive into the historical background of different cultures. To get anywhere on this topic, first, we need to understand that people aren’t a monolith. It’s impractical to group a whole segment of the population together. I can, with confidence, speak on the cultural factors of mental health regarding African American and Asian (shout out to my old job). Additionally, this is not a one size fits all piece. It does speak to the strength of cultural ideologies and how they shape our upbringing and decisions.
Crazy Black Stigmas
Black people are skeptical and distrusting of western (white men) medicine. The skepticism and distrust stems from historical violence on Black bodies and the power of prayer. Let’s start with historically significant points in time that have swayed Black people from seeking any type of medical help.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is a great example of why Black people are less likely to seek treatment from western medicine practitioners. It’s a system that built “medical breakthroughs” off our bodies to only turn around and refuse us access to the treatment. Medical inequality is real af and often hinders Black people from seeking medical treatment. So when Black people refuse to get help, best believe that it’s usually not even their fault.
Similar to Asian communities, an overwhelming percent of Black people believe mental illness is a sign of weakness as well. Instead of counseling, therapy or even medication for mental health disorders, Blacks have always tried Jesus first. Sometimes Jesus is the only option. Spirituality is the cornerstone in the majority of Black families. Having a hard time on your job? Pray. Spouse or children not acting right? Give it to God. Depressed? Go to church. Spirituality can be a source of strength through recovery but it can also exacerbate the effects of untreated mental illness.
Crazy Asian Stigmas
Asian Americans are exceptionally diverse in origin and culture but there are few cultural similarities, such as family and collectivist values. Our morals and principles are based on cultural values and belief systems which are central to determining acceptable behaviors and decisions. Mental illness is taboo for many Asian cultures as it goes against every principle learned. Asians shy away from even the thought of having a psychological disorder because it is a “weakness” so they aren’t usually seeking help.
There are often community and familial pressures that discourage many asians from seeking help. The idea of mental illness in Asian communities doesn’t agree with the “model minority” image – that of problem-free Asians who are generally healthy and even immune to behavioral addiction and mental illness. The Model Minority is this view that they, Asian Americans, have seamlessly integrated into society and are model citizen wholly in charge of their lives. Seeking help for mental illness creates shame and embarrassment. Sometime individuals never even seek help until they have suicide ideation or have already attempted suicide.
Let’s Talk Solutions
What can we do to lessen the burden of stigma related to mental illness in a way that inspires people to get help ? One method is having culturally competent health care providers. You can’t treat someone if you do not understand them, periodt. Collaboration between faith based institutions and mental health care workers would help too since faith dictates acceptance and compliance of treatment plans. It’s okay to have a therapist and Jesus. We promise.
Accessibility is HUGE in garnering support. If there are not dedicated locations in isolated neighborhoods then we cannot be surprised or expect people to seek treatment elsewhere. Does mental illness run in your family ? Have you ever been diagnosed ? Talk to us in the comments !