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 REGINA RHAE CONTRERAS2 minority
By Gina Contreras 

Tackling deep rooted stigmas through powerful storytelling 

My inspiration to create Not Your Model Minority, an online story telling platform, stemmed from a conversation I had with a friend. We would share our personal mental health struggles and the difficulties we faced in regards to self-care especially when our lives were so busy with school, work, family and friends.

One day, she approached me and asked if I was willing to drive her to an appointment to seek counselling. She was afraid to go alone, and her parents refused to accompany her. They couldn’t comprehend why she would have any reason to be depressed. They said that they had worked so hard to give her everything she needed – everything she wanted.

The rejection she was feeling from her parents made me angry. I questioned why any parent would react that way. But, I realized that I had many friends who experienced a similar reaction when telling their parents about possible mental health issues.

Asians living in North America represent one of the fastest growing ethnic minority groups with significant unmet mental health needs. Sometimes, these unmet needs stem from the “model minority” stereotype that suggests Asians are more academically, economically and socially successful than other racial minority groups. It contributes to the stigma that mental health issues do not affect them.

That is often not the case.

Not Your Model Minority aims to start a conversation about mental health and the stigma surrounding it. It combines the topic of mental health with social media to create an online community of minorities and young people to start a conversation about mental health. It’s an online space for Asians to share their stories in dealing with shame, lack of support and ignorance when living with mental illness.

The older generations in the Asian communities don’t fully understand what mental illness is and the effects it can have on someone’s life. It’s a very hush-hush topic that needs to be talked about.

The goal of Not Your Model Minority is to foster an environment of understanding, patience and support to overcome the battle of mental health. It’s a platform designed to ease the conversation between younger generations and their parents.

Often times, children of immigrant families feel like their parents won’t understand. There’s this common perception that our parents, who immigrated to Canada, had it much harder than we did. There’s fear that we’ll be told we’re being over-dramatic or weak, and sometimes kids are just told to pray about it.

Ideas of hardship can be different from parents that emigrated from Asian countries compared to kids born in Canada. These generations handle stress and anxiety in different ways. However, it doesn’t invalidate what someone may be going through.

Mental illness is beyond physical illnesses. Sometimes, young people just need parents to listen to them without judgement. Families are often our strongest support system. If young people are told to “get over it” – it can potentially make their mental health struggles worse. It can become isolating and detrimental to their recovery.

Stigma is still a huge factor when it comes to lack of diagnosis for those living with mental health concerns. We discovered that factors, including culture, lack of time and money, confidentiality and language limitations are other reasons treatment is not sought out.

It’s important to note that mental illness can manifest in several ways. It is not “one-size-fits-all.” Someone can live with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or an eating disorder. As mental health becomes more of a prominent topic in society, it’s our duty to educate ourselves and those around us.

We want to encourage people, especially the younger generations, to speak up. Stigmas can only be broken if we call for change and expose the harm it creates. We want to ask these hard questions and show these hard facts to expose the bigger issue.

Not Your Model Minority hopes to share more stories of brave individuals. People can visit the website at nymmwpg.com or find the social media accounts @nymmwpg to share their own stories or contribute their thoughts, experiences and lessons about this cultural stigma.

If people become more willing to speak about mental illness, we can help those who may be suffering in silence.

Gina Contreras is a 2nd year Creative Communications student at Red River College.