Hannah Hurr is a senior at Ridgewood Highschool in New Jersey. She is a talented journalist as well as a musician! Let’s dive into Hannah’s inspiring story.
Approximately 5.4% of the U.S. population identifies as Asian American or Pacific Islander. Of those, over 13% have had a diagnosable mental illness in the past year. That is over 2.2 million people. The overall suicide rate for Asian Americans is half that of the non-Hispanic White population, yet Asian American students are still more likely to fatally harm themselves.
I was born in Hawaii, lived in Korea with my grandparents, and then moved to the tri-state area (where the rest of my immediate family was) when I was five years old.
Growing up in a predominantly white (and wealthy) community, I never felt the need to identify with my Korean culture beyond the walls of my home. Nobody else around me really did either, out of fear that we would be ostracized for not being “American” enough.
A century ago, Asian-Americans were perceived as illiterate – as “marginal members of the human race” – and like so many other immigrants of color, were denied the right to become naturalized U.S. citizens. How is it that now, the current stereotype is that we are smart (i.e., “naturally good at math, science, and technology”), hard-working, wealthy, and of course, spiritually enlightened?
There’s a name for it, actually – it’s called the minority model stereotype. And it makes me angry.
My therapist says that I am on an unrealistic and ill-fated journey towards perfection, and I know that she is right. But who’s fault is it? I can attribute my ADD (Attention-Deficit Disorder) to a history of ADHD in my family. But, I believe that my MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) is a side effect that developed from my unfortunate years of constantly trying to make other people satisfied. I was constantly trying to make my parents proud and could never say “no” to anyone or anything.
By the conclusion of middle school, I had completely lost my sense of self-worth. It took me years to realize that being happy was something that I had previously took for granted.
By sophomore year, I had moved three times, my grandfather’s health was deteriorating, my mother had lost her job, and my entire family was inherently gloomy and, for lack of better wording, very stuck. All six of us had to rent out another new home. My biggest regret is not being as supportive to my parents as I should have been during such a confusing time for them. I never learned about my father’s extremely disturbing and difficult past (while he was immigrating to the States) until very recently, and it really pushed me to try to connect with my family better. I’m still working on that.
I am a senior in high school now, and I’ve only just come to accept that I am not the smartest student, nor do I come from a wealthy background. For years, I was almost embarrassed to admit that I was struggling. I didn’t want to eat because I was scared of spending money on food, and I didn’t want my parents to pay for sending me on a school trip. During summers, I was mad because while the people around me seemed to be enjoying their vacations, I was always trying to work and raise spending money for myself and my younger sister. I had begun to isolate myself from the people I used to love being around. I was paranoid and ashamed – all of the time.
I will admit that I’m still a very paranoid person and have been this mentally distressed for as long as I can remember. I grew up with way too much concern for the rest of the world, extreme mood swings, and pent-up emotions that resulted in angry outbursts (like when I was seven, I unintentionally broke my sister’s arm in the midst of a breakdown. I don’t remember why, but how upset could seven-year-old me really be to hurt someone like that?!). The brutal reality is that my unstable mental health has ruined so many beautiful relationships in my lifetime.
Based on data, Asian Americans are least likely to receive diagnoses – even though 57% of those who completed a mental health screen scored moderately to severely depressed. Consequently, we are also three times less likely to seek mental health services.
The all-too-common scenario is that when we present problems or struggles to our loved ones, we are often told that we do not understand what “true” struggling is, or that our problems are invalid. This is not just an issue for Asian-Americans – it’s every single person who struggles to ask for help, to come out, or to admit that they are not okay.
Personally, I don’t have trouble making friends or talking to unfamiliar or intimidating people. My friends actually describe me as loud and very outgoing. I have been a musician my entire life, and I love photography. But, the trait is bittersweet. I find myself panicking a lot of the time because I am obsessed with putting “too much on my plate”. I think a lot of us can relate to that. It sounds simple, but it is an addicting sensation that is impossible to explain. Until last year, when I was inevitably hospitalized, I had no idea the lasting effects that extreme stress and fatigue would have on me. I only get my period every three-to-four months now and still miss school occasionally when my body-aches get really bad.
The most difficult part of one’s journey to healing is trying to remain optimistic, but I promise you —it’s not impossible:
- It’s never too late to seek guidance (and it comes in several different forms): I did not start going to therapy until two years after my doctor recommended that I see one. I’ve also promised my psychiatrist that I would go without medication for as long as I possibly could, which was a personal decision that I made on behalf of my family and my health.
- Therapy is NOT for everyone: Therapy may not only be inaccessible but discouraged as well. Therefore, I urge that – despite whatever race, religion, or gender you represent – you never fear simply asking for help. Prioritize yourself.
- It is okay to not be okay: My parents still do not accept me for who I am, and I don’t know if they ever will. There will be good and bad days, but I live every day as it comes and try to face my challenges headfirst.
- Find your self-healing remedies and a communicative support system, even if it’s just you and only you: I encourage you all to write, to create, and to live out the best versions of yourselves that you possibly can.
P.S. If you know someone who is struggling with mental illness, know that everybody copes differently: Don’t ask me “What happened?”. I’m aware of my scars and who I am. Ask me “How are you?” I’d be happy to share.