Stigmatis-Asian: our inability to talk about mental health struggles is killing us

Photo by Zoe on Unsplash

Collectivism and conformity

I grew up in Lower Hutt, a medium-sized town in New Zealand in the early 90s where most Chinese people knew each other. Chit-chat was rife, often around restaurant tables or the local Saturday markets, and when a person within the community was mentally unwell or displayed behaviour that was considered anything other than “normal”, nothing kind was ever said.

Model minority and filial piety

I had one job in life as the only daughter of two incredibly hard working immigrants — to live the golden narrative. It goes like this: go to school, do well, go to university, get a degree (preferably in accountancy, engineering, medicine or law), make good money, get married (preferably to a man of Chinese descent), have kids and live happily ever after. Anything that deviated from this path caused tension. My parents had sacrificed everything for me, I owed it to them to do life right.

The fall out

Of course, all this bottled up anxiety came to a head in 2020, when I had a mental breakdown of my own. It came after a prolonged period of stress — moving cities, a global pandemic, possible redundancy, a dying family member, and being accountable for major financial decisions on behalf of family members all while maintaining the “dutiful daughter” mirage, which was just that — a mirage.

The harm

In ‘Mental Distress and Discrimination in Aotearoa New Zealand’ report published by the Health Promotion Agency, Asian people reported lower rates of mental distress. It is unclear whether this reflects actual rates or cultural differences relating to disclosure, but based on personal experience, I’d say the latter definitely has something to do with it.

The solution

We have to start changing the narrative around mental health and illness among the Asian community. Doing so will save lives, and early intervention is key to prevent further mental distress.



A collection of stories that amplify the voices of Asians and Asia-related issues around themes of injustice, identity, culture, and trends.

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Yvonne Tse

I run. I eat. I travel. I live with OCD. I spend most days solving complex problems.