Survivorship Looks Different in the Asian American Community

Samiksha

 

Samiksha Manjani is a Student Staff member at UMBC’s Women’s Center. She is a Political Science and Sociology double-major and is currently a co-facilitator of the Women’s Center’s discussion group, Women of Color Coalition.  

 

 

As a survivor of sexual violence, I have found myself re-traumatized by the recent events that have happened at UMBC. In the aftermath, I struggled to focus in my classes and could barely complete my work. Despite this, I somehow managed to get by with everyday going by in a blur. I went through the motions day-in and day-out. I was slowly sinking back into depression.

One of the most common emotional and psychological responses to sexual violence is depression (RAINN). Depression is a mood disorder which occurs when feelings of sadness and hopelessness persist for long periods of time and interrupt regular thought patterns. It affects a person’s behavior and can disrupt their relationships. Just like many other survivors, I also struggle with depression.

During this difficult time, I was shocked that no one in my life had asked me how I was doing. None of my friends had asked me how I was handling the news, despite knowing that I’m a survivor and that I also struggle with depression. They knew about the lawsuit against UMBC too. In fact, they knew so much about it that they talked to me about their opinions on the matter. Yet, they never asked me how I was processing the news or if I was doing okay.

At first, I thought, “wow, I have really shitty friends in my life.” But I realized that this was a drastic conclusion to make considering my friends were normally compassionate. Instead, I tried to put myself in their shoes. Why would my normally compassionate friends be so inconsiderate? Had my external behavior reflected my internal suffering?

I realized that, from an outsider’s perspective, I seemed completely okay because I went to my classes and work as usual. My behavior, communication, and demeanor had basically stayed the same so nothing seemed amiss. However, this was completely contrary to how I felt internally. Inside, I felt awful. Every step I took was harder, every assignment I completed took longer, and every smile was faker. I was falling apart on the inside, yet no one around me could see it.

giphy

At first, I thought that this was just how I expressed trauma. But after some reflection, I realized that I knew so many other Asian women dealing with depression that were also still high-functioning. I was not the only person who exhibited depressive symptomology this way, and more importantly, it had seemed that this was especially common for other Asians.

My assumption was not wrong. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (2011) found that Asian-American teenage girls have the highest rate of depression compared to any other racial, ethnic or gender group. Furthermore, the suicide rates for 15-24 year old Asian American females are 30% higher than the rates for white females of the same age (Mental Health America). Yeung and Kam (2006) found that none of the Asian patients in their study considered depressed mood as their main problem. However, more than 90% of them indicated having a depressed mood when asked to rate their symptoms on a depression rating scale.

Despite these alarming statistics, 51% of Asian Americans have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, compared to 29% of all Americans (Mental Health America). Furthermore, 21% of Asians, ages 25 or older, have attained an advanced degree (e.g., Master’s, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D.), which is significantly higher than the national average of 12% (Baum and Steele, 2017; United States Census Bureau, 2016). Lastly, the median annual household income of Asian American households is $73,060, compared to $53,600 among all U.S. households (Pew Research Center, 2017). It is important to note, however, that there is variation in educational attainment and median annual income among the different ethnic groups which makeup “Asian Americans.”

These findings made me wonder, why do Asian women express depressive symptomology so differently than other ethnic groups?

One reason could be because of the immense pressure Asians deal with to live up to the model minority stereotype. The model minority stereotype characterizes Asians by hard work, laudable family values, economic self-sufficiency, non-contentious politics, academic achievement, and entrepreneurial success (Kang, 2010). There is a lot of American cultural pressure on Asians to fit into this “intelligent and self-reliant” stereotype. Such a stereotype has dire consequences; for-example, Asian students are pressured to rise to an academic bar that keeps rising. The mental health cost of reaching an unrealistic standard is demonstrated by the statistics mentioned above.

This pressure is worsened by the fact that many Asian immigrants experience downward economic mobility upon arrival to the U.S. Most Asian immigrants are highly educated and held middle-class status in their country of origin (Lopez, Bialik, & Radford,  2018). Because of this downward shift in class status, Asian immigrants have to work their way up from the bottom of the social and economic ladder in the U.S. This is a very daunting task given that many Asian immigrants not only have to support themselves and their families in the U.S., but also relatives back home (United Nations, 2017). This leads to an immense pressure to climb up the socioeconomic ladder and become financially stable.

Both the pressure of the model minority stereotype and pressure to support family members removes any possibility for Asians Americans to display characteristic forms of depression without severe consequences. There are high costs for Asian American immigrants if they do not complete their education, capitalize on job opportunities, and/or perform at their jobs. If they do not perform, they are risking not only their survival, but the survival of relatives back home. This does not mean that people who display traditional depressive symptomatology are somehow less “able” or “motivated” if they can’t complete these tasks. It is simply that the pressure to economically succeed robs Asian Americans the ability to address mental health concerns.

Another reason could be the large stigma within the Asian community surrounding mental health illnesses and treatment. Asian Americans are 3x less likely to seek mental health services than White Americans (Nishi). Furthermore, it is taboo within the Asian community to speak about having mental health illnesses (Chu & Sue, 2011). One large reason this stigma exists is because of the concept of familial shame within Asian communities.

There is immense pressure in the Asian community to preserve the family’s reputation and status at all costs. This is reflected in popular terms used within various Asian cultures which represent the process of shame or losing face: “Haji” among Japanese, “Hiya” among Filipinos, “Mianzi” among Chinese,”Chaemyun” among Koreans, and “Sharam” among Indians (Sue, 1994). If an Asian person has a mental health illness, it could be interpreted by the community as a result of their family’s failure to raise the person correctly. Therefore, Asian Americans are unlikely to acknowledge and seek mental health treatment in fear of “bringing shame” to their families.

I think in a lot of ways all of these factors have influenced the way that I have processed the trauma of my assault and the resulting depression. Like many other Asian American women, I don’t outwardly exhibit depression through conventional symptoms. However, this doesn’t mean that I experience depression less severely than other people. On the contrary, I struggle with depression so much sometimes that it’s hard to even do basic tasks (even if I end up somehow getting it done). Because of the fact that depression is one of the most common psycho-emotional responses to sexual violence and also that the Asian community presents unique depressive symptomology, it is logical to conclude that survivorship is likely to look different in the Asian community.  

Therefore, it is extremely important for friends, family members, and mental health professionals to recognize that survivorship manifests differently in various ethnic communities. As such, the type of support given must be individualized to meet the needs of survivors of different backgrounds. To best support survivors, the people within the survivor’s inner circle should adopt a lens of cultural humility.  

The Women’s Center uses this lens of cultural humility to best support survivors of different backgrounds. Cultural humility is a humble and respectful attitude towards individuals of other cultures that pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases. This departs from “cultural competency” in that it recognizes that a person cannot possibly know everything about other cultures. Instead, people should approach learning about other cultures as a lifelong goal and process.

I truly believe that if my friends had adopted a lens of cultural humility, they would have easily picked up on my struggles. If they had understood more about Asian culture and what it means to be an Asian immigrant, they probably would have been able to recognize my signals of distress. This is especially important for mental health professionals; they would be able to pick up more details from their clients if they held the mindset that “there’s always more to learn.” Using this lens, we can better support the survivors in our lives.

**Please note that not every Asian person experiences depression this way. The goal of this blog is to highlight a common phenomenon in the Asian community. If an Asian person does not process depression or trauma this way, it is not a reflection of their Asianness, intelligence, reliability, or any other characteristics.**

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Me too. And now what?

The following is a guest post from UMBC alumna Juliette Seymour, MCS and GWST ’14, who was both inspired and incensed by the recent “Me Too” campaign. Although this widespread social media initiative has shed light on the pervasiveness of sexual violence and assault in our communities, Juliette writes about follow-through and next steps. 

Content note: Sexual abuse, rape, trauma

Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too.

Me too.

It’s endless. I cannot count the number of the “Me too” Facebook status I have seen since Sunday night. If you are not on Facebook, to provide some backstory, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted (a co-opted message from activist, Tarana Burke):

Screen shot from Alyssa Milano’s twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Inset text reads: “Me too. Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Since then, my Facebook feed (and everyone else’s) has been nothing but “Me too’s.”

I posted one, deleted it. Then sat with a rock in my stomach. I’m used to this rock. It’s been with me since I was a child. This rock varies in size and weight, sometimes it’s small and manageable. Other times it’s large, growing past my stomach into my chest and throat making it nearly impossible for me to take deep breaths or speak. It’s grown as I have; the seemingly constant sexual abuse and rape that has happened throughout my life adding weight to this rock. You know this rock if you’ve experienced any sort of abuse/trauma. It sucks.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

I sat with this rock in my stomach for a while. My overactive mind weighing the pros and cons of this campaign (I don’t know if that is the proper term, but honestly, I’m not here to overanalyze that aspect). Should I repost? Why did I delete it? Why did I hesitate to post in the first place? Why did it feel wrong?

Then it clicked.

We’ve already stood up. We’ve already put a mark on our backs. We’ve already gone to the police to be dismissed. We’ve already sat through questioning from everyone, and I mean, everyone – how long was your skirt, did you drink, have you had sex before, why were you out at night, why did you let them, why didn’t you say no, have you had sex with them before, aren’t you married, why didn’t you fight back, didn’t you want it at first, why didn’t you say something sooner – to be told it was our fault. Even though it is never EVER our fault.

We’ve been through this motion before.

Think of all the people who have stood up and said “Hey, Bill Cosby/Woody Allen/Donald Trump/Harvey Weinstein/Sean Penn/Dr. Luke/My friend/My family/Your friend/Your family/etc., has raped/sexually abused me.”

What happened to the survivor? Now, what happened to the abuser in these situations? If you don’t already know the answer, take a moment, think about it. What happened to Trump? Cosby?

The answer is nothing. Nothing happened to them. Hell, one of them is sitting in the oval office.

Where are the Facebook statuses of abusers/rapist saying “I did it” so we can understand the severity of this? Where are my supposed ‘allied’ cis men standing up to their friends when they make rape jokes, or catcall? Or rape. When are we going to start holding abusers accountable? When are we going to refer to our brothers and fathers as rapists, instead of our sisters and mothers as victims? When are we going to ask why did you rape instead of why were you raped? When are we going to teach how not to rape instead of how not to get raped?

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

When are we going to actually listen to survivors? And then when are we going to do more than just…listen?

I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did.

But what I do have is this:

First, and most importantly –  If you posted a Me Too status, if you didn’t, if you don’t believe that your story is “real” enough, if you are not safe or comfortable enough to post; I see you. I hear you. I believe you. You are not alone. And I love you.

Second, and almost as important – Now what?

I’m not going to post a Facebook status, sit back, and pretend it did something. I’m not going to do that, and I’m asking you to do the same. And I know it hurts, it’s painful, uncomfortable, and seems impossible. Trust me. I know what it feels like to not be able to speak the things that happened to you (and very slowly getting to a point where you can kind of talk about it in therapy). I know what it feels like to be retraumatized with panic attacks and sleepless nights following. I know what it feels like to have to live with your abuser. I know what it feels like to question, “Was it rape? Was it my fault?” (and accepting that yes, it was rape, and no, it’s not my fault).

I know.

But, we have to be uncomfortable, we have to work through the pain, we have to support each other in our respective journeys to healing.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

So here is my action plan. To hold myself accountable, and to provide a possible road map for you. I do not know what your story is, how your healing will come, or what will happen. Hell, I don’t even know if my plan will work. But for right now, it’s all that I got:

  1. Go to therapy
  2. Delete Facebook off my phone (at least for a few days)
  3. Check-in with myself (you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first) and then friends
  4. Start volunteering with the Monument Quilt again (the studio is close to my house, and I made myself email them before finishing this post to ensure I followed through)
  5. Look into support groups for survivors

IMPORTANT NOTES:

I cannot stress this enough to my fellow survivors: This is in no way to shame or put down those who have found comfort/strength/healing through this hashtag Facebook thing (I still don’t know what to call it). I hope with all of my heart that this creates a sense of community, love, healing, and will do the thing it’s supposed to do. This is not directed towards those who find healing through these means, I’m happy you have that. I am SO happy you have that.

This is me wanting more from society. Not you.

And, it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it: ABUSE/RAPE HAPPENS ACROSS ALL GENDER LINES. WOMAN, MAN, TRANS, GENDERQUEER, NO GENDER, ALL GENDER. IT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE.

And, an important note on race: I am white. This is my white perspective. Race obviously plays a role in this. I do not feel adept to write about that. I do not want to assume/overpower or write for POC because their voices should be raised.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

 


  • For more information and resources related to sexual assault and gender-based violence, visit our website or contact the Women’s Center at 410.455.2714.
  • For more information about reporting at UMBC, the sexual misconduct policy, or Title IX, visit UMBC’s Human Relations website
  • The photos above are from the Monument Quilt. For more information, visit their website.

 

Healing My Community

Daniel Willey A reflection by Women’s Center staff member Daniel

Trigger warning for suicide mention; resources at the bottom of the post

My community experienced a tragedy early this October, and the ripples from the impact are still cascading across campus and beyond. I woke up that morning to several messages from friends and coworkers telling me what I already knew: a dear friend had passed from suicide.

This friend was a very private person whose spouse has also asked for privacy. In order to respect their wishes, this blog post isn’t about her. That said, I’m incredibly sad about her passing and I miss her every day and I certainly don’t want anybody to forget her. Ever. She was insatiably curious and incredibly smart. She cared deeply for her community and the students she encountered. And now she’s gone.

My friend was a trans woman and she was active in the community of queer and trans students on campus. Her death had an enormous impact on that community, and we continue to be impacted by it for many reasons. Many, and in fact most, of us in the queer and trans community live with mental illness, neurodiversity, or both, and to see it overtake someone who tried so hard for so long is discouraging at best. Mostly, it’s frightening. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on health and health care, 41% of trans people attempt suicide in their lifetime. In the face of all of this, it’s been so hard for my community to see the light.

But also in the face of all of this, I’ve seen some incredible coming together. We are a community who has had to learn how to take care of each other. It can be difficult because sometimes we can’t even take care of ourselves, but when shit really hits the fan I know I have people I can be with. There are people with whom I can cry and talk frankly about how fucking bad it feels. And then we hold each other and support one another and even though we’re all having a hard time, we’re doing it together.  Continue reading