By Ed Diokno
‘Running amok’ is a common phrase you probably have heard. Did you know that the word “amok” is of Malaysian origin? “Amok” refers to a person, usually male, who goes on a rampage and starts killing everyone in sight and it usually ends with that person getting killed. It’s a form of suicide, really, an individual who is mentally disturbed trying to go out in a rage, telling the world contradictory messages: that he can’t take the world anymore and his existence matters.
I only mention this because mental health issues are topics Asian Americans generally try to avoid, yet the manifestations that someone having difficulty coping is something everyone is familiar with; something that tends to be discussed behind closed doors. It can manifest itself in extreme forms like running amok or more commonly, as in the case of movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “in a bubble.”
“I didn’t want to do a thing,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was crying constantly. Eventually you reach a point where you are all cried out.”
That wasn’t the first time he felt lost, nor was it the last. Each time he had to remake himself, into a wrestler, into an actor, into a businessman, into a father.
Just the fact that they are people of color in a country that in every institution is white-centric puts a lot of stress on minorities; that they don’t count, don’t matter and are invisible to the rest of society.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders come from 52 different countries and are the most diverse racial/ethnic group in terms of religious/spiritual affiliation, cultural background and traditions, and generational and immigration experiences.
Prevalence rates of mental illness among AAPI are believed to be no different from those of other Americans. However, the type of psychopathology, ethnicity and generational status, acculturation and cultural background all appear to influence the manifestation of psychological distress among AAPI, according to Gayle Y. Iwamasa of the Asian American Psychological Association.
A study conducted by The University of Maryland School of Public Health research team in 2007, which looked at needs of mental health for Asian American young adults, showed that participants reported several common sources of stress that affected their overall mental health:
- Parental pressure to succeed in academics
- Reluctance to discussing mental health concerns in many Asian cultures. Asian Americans tend to dismiss, deny or neglect their symptoms
- Pressure to live up to the “model minority” stereotype (a view that inaccurately portrays Asian Americans as successfully integrating into mainstream culture and having overcome the challenges of racial bias)
- Family obligations based on strong traditional and cultural values
- Discrimination due to racial or cultural background
- Difficulty in balancing two different cultures and developing a bicultural sense of self
These same cultural values are key reasons AAPI are less likely to seek help or treatment for their depression or other mental illness.
The fact that a celebrity of Johnson’s stature is willing to go public with his depression, even if that may hurt his macho image, hopefully may help someone struggling with mental health – whether it be depression, PTSD, feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, sexual identity, or some other issue – to seek the help he, or she, needs.
“I found that, with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone,” said the movie action hero in the YouTube video posted by Winfrey’s OWN channel. “You’re not the first to go through it; you’re not going to be the last to go through it. And oftentimes — it happens — you just feel like you’re alone. You feel like it’s only you. You’re in your bubble. And I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and (say), ‘Hey, it’s gonna be OK. It’ll be OK.’ So, I wish I knew that.”
Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)