The Taboo of Mental Health in Asian Culture

Student Writer | Alexa Tecson

We’ve all heard the jokes, we’ve all seen the stereotypes, we’ve all witnessed the complaints: ‘As an Asian, our career choices are doctor, lawyer, engineer or disgrace to family. ‘Only 90% in exam? I have no son’. And my personal favorite, ‘Why did you get B? You’re A-sian not B-sian’. Unfortunately, the humor from these jokes come from a place of truth: the fact that the high expectations in most Asian cultures cause stress, anxiety, depression and other issues in the mental health of Asian students. If the stereotype of an Asian parent is seen a strict, overbearing parent who expects too much too soon, why isn’t more attention being brought to the children that suffer as a consequence?

Royal Holloway’s students have much to say. Phoebe, a PIR student from Japan who studied in the Philippines, links it to cultural importance given to image and results. Phoebe believes the Japanese work ethic is admirable, but rejects acknowledgement of any issues that may deter one’s work. Because of this, signs of being depressed, anxious or suicidal are often ignored for the sake of perfect results. Unfortunately, because the success rates end up high, no one really questions anyone’s health or happiness and focus only on the results.

Sayoko, a half-Indian, half-Japanese Law student, suggest that even if the cultural stigma were not present, the cultural significance of family is still emphasized, and the fear of disappointing them is very much prevalent and becomes worse when no support is given. Choices made against your family’s wishes may lead to tension and toxic relationships, which in turn exacerbates the anxiety and stress one can feel. Moreover, Sayoko feels that forgiveness and understanding that some people will make mistakes, although very much needed, is sorely lacking in Japanese culture, which leaves no room for closure and leaves tension between family very much present.

Eddie Huang from ‘Fresh Off The Boat’ / Image from


Wade, a Chinese student studying economics, believes it’s a symptom of financial background: wealthier parents are more likely to help with their children’s issues, but for the parents who view their child’s education and success as an investment, illness, mental or physical, can easily be considered as an excuse to be ‘lazy’ and not work. He also attributes this to a lack of understanding in psychological issues, as education levels can vary depending on the area, and certain parents may simply associate depression with sadness rather than taking it seriously.

Source:  US-China Investment News


Arthur, a Chinese economics student who grew up in Singapore, also suggested that it might not just be a matter of cultural thinking, but a question of who can afford help: when Arthur requested an appointment to seek help for his depression, the only appointment he could get was in five to six months. The waiting period prevents people from even seeking help. The alternative is to pay for private help, which would come without the waiting period, but may not be an option for those who can’t afford the high cost.

pink and white ceramic pig coin bank
Photo by Pixabay on


All in all, most students were in agreement that lack of understanding and cultural stigmas were the root cause of ignoring mental health issues in Asian culture. Suggestions included adding lessons dedicated to the subject in schools to create more awareness and normalise the existence of these issues, rather than ignoring them. Other suggestions included putting more resources and funding into the psychological field, which suffers from a lack of staff. But in terms of personal effort, the only option is to deviate from social norms and attempt to be more considerate and forgiving than what they are used to, choosing instead to listen rather than to judge and hopefully, create a more understanding environment.

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