Mental Health and Japanese American

Hi, my name is Tim, I am Japanese American, and I have mental health issues. I am currently seeking treatment and am on medication. For nearly 50 years, I struggled with anxiety, which caused a host of other challenges in my life, which includes OCD, agoraphobia, and depression. So why the delay in seeking treatment? Culture as well as a lack of understanding how far science and technology have come. The fear of a frontal lobotomy is no longer an issue.

So when did my issues begin? Possibly at three. As an infant, I never spoke. Most of my language was grunts and awkward sounds. I may have had autism, but there was no real understanding of mental health. According to DSM-1 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the bible for mental health employees, LGBTQs were considered a sociopathic personality disturbance. It was in 1974 when the American Psychiatric Association removed LGBTQ as a mental health issue.

Then growing up, and not being treated, I had challenges in life. I did poorly in school, I was a victim of bullying, and most of my childhood life was a daydream. According to my school cume, I used to daydream (it’s now called ADHD), I could not concentrate, and in the classroom, I was an outcast. I was unreliable. For lack of a better term, I was scattered-brain.  As time went on, I barely graduated high school and had to go to Summer School to graduate.

I then went to work as no college wanted me. I later attended a community college and had a 1.7 GPA, but I couldn’t care less about my grades. Then my Asian American/Japanese language professor said to the students, “You know, I don’t care if you do well or not…I’m still getting paid regardless.

“This is not high school where I would try to coax you to do well. You are all adults, and you are responsible for your education.” Then something snapped, and I studied and did well. I eventually graduated, got my bachelor and am going for my MBA. Even with my success, I still felt at odds with life.

As my life continued, my life changed. I stopped going to church; I was involved in different civil rights activities. Nothing seemed to satisfy me. As my anxiety grew more and more, I broke away from life and remained in the shadows. I eventually became a Unitarian Universalist member, but nothing seemed to make me happy.

I remained a loner and stayed away from family and friends. I found peace being alone, away from family and friends. My doctor sent me to see a therapist, and eventually, I began therapy and a prescription routine. My life is now a lot better thanks to science as well as counseling. It took me many years to seek treatment as the stigma of mental illness is considered taboo. As a PoC (Person of Color), if one’s brain is ill, then there is a genetic defect making the family’s lineage also defective.

Though harsh, this is the philosophy many PoC endure, especially in the Asian culture, a belief that has been around for several thousand years. Though the newer generation is accepting of treatment, the elders tend to frown upon the fact that there is something wrong. There is also a conflict when religion and ethnicity collide. I grew up in a Japanese American evangelical church and the two mix poorly. The Bible verse:

1 Corinthians 12:26
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

 The above verse is representative of the belief that if someone is mentally ill, then something they did was a punishment from God. Silence is golden in this case as preventing shame dictates the guidance of the familial hierarchy. Also, death before dishonor, a samurai trait, would be in order too. In Japan and the Japanese culture, even amongst Christians, suicide is a common trait. But committing suicide because one is selfish or have mental issues, brings shame to the family.

My treatment is known to only one family member, and I am encouraged to keep going. I have realized that if I want to get better, there are some secrets that I need to have so that family pressure would not discourage me from getting better. Is it the fault of my culture? Maybe so, but trying to change more than 10,000 years of history and eliminate a caste system mentality is hard.

For me, it is better to remain in the shadow than to admit my illness, as culture dictates the family genetics and not logic. Mental illness is comparable to having the flu, and medicine is used to help one to get better. It is not a defect nor is it blemish on the family name. Unfortunately, there are outside forces that play on the stereotypes like T.V. shows.

This blog is why I came out of the mental illness closet and am trying to open more doors so that people can be accepted and the stigma attached can just fade away and we could live a healthy life. Normality began when I was at the G.A. in New Orleans. I electronically met Pastor Barbara Meyers online after searching for mental health at the UUA website. I then took a chance and sent her an email. She responded quickly, and we were scheduled to meet on the first day.

We met and spoke briefly about our lives and our health, and it went well. Unfortunately, the next day, my anxiety kicked in hard and I was avoiding everyone. Eventually, after therapy, my therapist recommended medication. There are a few people in my church who knows I am taking a prescription, but I was amazed at the warmth and nonjudgmental attitude.

U.U.s are caring and loving, but at the same time, not prying, which helps me as I strive to get better. Even DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministry) members understand as they put aside the cultural bias and accept me for who I am. Unfortunately, there are those who are not U.U. or DRUUMM, and because of culture or lack of knowledge, people who have challenges in life are deemed as either drug addicts, retarded, or just too lazy to be responsible. Forget the fact that environment, genetics, or a host of other factors create what we are today. There is also the crowd who say that ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) was the result of vaccination when folks before the vaccination programs had autism.

Stigma and fear go counter to what is helpful and yes, promote fake news about those who need support. Support needs to go beyond our churches and the UUA, but into our neighborhoods and country, where folks are not thrown out on the streets or living under a bridge, and being a victim of crime.

Our churches can be the foundation, but it is up to all of us to be the voices who cannot speak or are too anxious to do so.


Leave a Reply