My name is Henry Zhu. I have a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Hofstra University. I am first and foremost a father and a husband. Next, I am a therapist, a gamer, and a producer of music. I’m writing this in hopes that you may relate somewhat and to slowly break down the mental health stigma that is pervasive in the Asian, Pacific Islander, & Desi American (APIDA) communities. In honoring Mental Awareness Month and Asian Heritage Month, I write this in hope to humanize and to normalize all of our mental health journeys towards wellness.
My journey starts with being born and raised in a Chinese American family. My parents were immigrants to the United States and had to work 2-3 jobs at a time to provide for the family. Academic success, grades, and certificates of accomplishment were prioritized above any sense of validation, affection, or emotional intelligence. They valued the only path towards success they knew in their world. As a result, I grew up feeling as though I always fell short of their expectations despite doing very well academically. Even though they felt so very disconnected from me, I recognize now that they did their best to raise me. Now I have the privilege of breaking the cycle, and to provide a different kind of life for my child.
My mental health concerns didn’t come to the forefront until high school. I was ignorant of the effects of being from two very different worlds – my Chinese world and my American world. I felt trapped between the two, and I didn’t feel free to find my identity in either one. There was a lot of pressure to conform but very little guidance or mentorship. I realized in senior year of high school that I was deeply depressed and anxious. I was unhappy and felt lost in the world. I was anxious because I didn’t fit in with the Eastern world or the Western world. I saw an Asian school psychologist and an Asian psychiatrist who were both very unhelpful. I left both services feeling as though I were broken and that the solution to “fixing” myself had slipped my grasp despite professional help that I wrongly assumed would understand me. Long story short, I then took my mental health into my own hands by seeking more helpful sources of healing and coping. For me, it took years of introspection, years of self-help, and the courage to give myself compassion during the long and arduous journey. I’m in a much better headspace now and I know there’s still a long way to go.
If you’re still with me, thank you so much for reading this far. I ventured into the mental health field to prevent others from feeling the same way that I did – invisible. That’s a story for another time. I want to disillusion you – the work in the mental health field is difficult and the pay is not glamorous, but I personally wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m privileged to know I’ve been able to provide for those in need in a different way than the care I’ve received in the past. Mental wellness, to me, is a life-long battle – we can fight against the tides or we can ride the waves to calmer water. It’s not our fault we are put in the situations we grow up in. However, we can slowly take responsibility for our physical and mental wellness. Let’s surf the waves together to provide others with the tools to surf alongside.
To end – I’m genuinely inspired by the younger generations of today – for having the courage to understand their own mental and physical wellness needs. But it doesn’t stop there, I am floored by the number of people willing to be vulnerable online and to share their stories along with others who have taken the time to validate and to support each other. I am proud of the community that’s been built. If you’re just starting off on your mental health journey the community welcomes you. This is how we heal and break the cycles of stigma. We’re in this together.