Alex San Diego

Lately I’ve been reflecting a lot on culture and mental health.

There are definitely things stemmed in culture and tradition that caused me to struggle when I was a teenager all the way to when I was in University. I watched my parents work hard, physical labour jobs. I watched one come home at 10 p.m. while the other would leave for work at 10 p.m. for many years. As a result, I felt a lot of pressure early on in my life to become someone that could take care of my siblings and my family back home.

That’s what Filipinos do. We work hard for our family. It’s not necessarily a negative thing, but I did grow up thinking that I’d never get to be like my other friends at school. They planned on pursuing their dreams, travelling the world, and leaving this small city behind. Meanwhile, I felt trapped. And I was scared. What if I couldn’t become someone who could take care of my family?

I also suffered in high school and my undergraduate degree because of crippling self-doubt and self-esteem issues. This was a result of many things, including experiencing bullying and toxic relationships in junior high and high school. I had been insulted and gaslighted and abandoned by people I loved. I hated myself and struggled with suicide ideation. Yet I wasn’t able to speak up because I didn’t know how to. I didn’t know how to ask for help because I never had to — help with homework, help with university admissions, help with getting a part-time job, help with getting a scholarship — I handled it all on my own.

I handled learning about mental health and accessing therapy on my own too. I realized in order to become someone who is a good daughter, sister, and person — I have to take care of myself too. Pursuing my dreams and travelling the world is not selfish. It will help me be happy, and if I am happy, then I will have the capacity to help others be happy. I will be able to take care of the people I love.

I wanted the world to know this too. I started to speak out about my experiences with bullying, self-esteem, and depression as a youth mental health advocate. I spoke at fundraising events, I spoke to high school and university classes, and eventually I spoke on TV. And I spoke to my family about mental health.

I can definitely say that we didn’t handle the mental health talk perfectly right off the bat. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve experienced crisis after crisis. We’ve all said things we regret. But, we are talking. We are looking out for each other. We support each other more and more each day. We’re educating ourselves. We are changing for the better.

This doesn’t apply to all Asian families or even all Filipino families. I know this. But change can happen. I am experiencing it with my family everyday. Culture is created by humans. We made it. We can change it. Try and define things in their language, in their terms. Take time, and take care.

Asian Mental Health Collective