How To Talk To Filipino Parents About Mental Health : Shots - Health News A daughter tries to find out why her mom wouldn't talk to her about her emotional struggles. The answer partly had to do with 400 years of colonialism ... and American TV.

How I Learned To Talk To My Filipino Mom About My Mental Health

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It can be hard to talk with family members about issues like depression and anxiety. It's especially difficult for the adult children of immigrant parents. NPR's Malaka Gharib has this story of a Filipino-American woman working to change that.

MALAKA GHARIB, BYLINE: Twenty-eight-year-old Ryan Tanep (ph) is from Virginia Beach, Va. Her parents both came from the Philippines. Growing up, she often felt like she was living in two worlds - the American world and the Filipino world. And that had an effect on her emotional life.

RYAN TANEP: Emotions and feelings - just something you don't talk about.

GHARIB: I know what that's like. My mom is Filipino. When I was a kid and I told her about something that bothered me, she'd just tell me not to think about it.

TANEP: You just kind of soldier on through it and not really ever tell your parents or family members whenever you're going through something tough.

GHARIB: Ryan remembers this one time when she was in high school. She came home crying because a girl had bullied her.

TANEP: And my mom told me to read the Bible. She said, just open it to whatever page it opens to, and something there is going to help you. And I remember doing that, and I'm like, why isn't anything helping me?

GHARIB: Ryan says that her Filipino friends were bumping into the same problem. It was as if their parents were reading from the same script. And it turns out, they kind of were. Stephanie Balon is a Filipino-American youth and family therapist. She's with the Daly City Youth Health Center in California. She says she hears stories like Ryan's from her patients all the time.

STEPHANIE BALON: So when there is that disconnect between parents and children, you can imagine how isolating that can be.

GHARIB: One of the problems is that our hardships seem to pale in comparison to the incredible struggle our parents had to go through, leaving their homes to start a brand-new life in America. So it's understandable why Ryan kept quiet about her feelings. And for years, she dealt with depression and anxiety.

TANEP: I didn't tell anyone, you know?

GHARIB: And when things got really bad, she thought about suicide.

TANEP: Not only that but, like, a lot of people I know - one of my ex-boyfriends - him, too. I've had friends open up to me, like, this is what I'm going through right now. What do I do?

GHARIB: Studies have found that Filipino-Americans have some of the highest rates of depression among Asian-Americans, yet they seek mental health treatment at the lowest rates. E.J. Ramos David is a Filipino-American psychologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He says Filipinos don't get help because they're afraid it'll bring shame to their families.

EJ RAMOS DAVID: We don't just care about ourselves. We are collectivistic people, and this shows up very clearly in how family-oriented we are. And our parents are, you know, a big part of our lives.

GHARIB: So stepping outside of family for help is not acceptable. When Ryan was well into her 20s, she was still afraid to tell her parents about her own struggles with mental health. She worried that they would think it would make them look bad, that her emotional issues were a result of their parenting. Then, in college, she met Stephen (ph), a fellow Filipino-American. He got her involved with the Filipino club on campus. He was a kuya - a brother, her mentor.

TANEP: He was so articulate. He wanted to be a senator - literally the image of perfection.

GHARIB: Stephen eventually graduated, started law school but remained in touch, coming to Ryan's events on campus and even reading and giving her feedback on her poetry. And then one day, she heard startling news. Stephen had died.

TANEP: He died by suicide. It was kind of like somebody dropping a bomb on me. Like, why is someone that I look up to, who is a role model, who seems so well put-together suffering? And why did they think that suicide's the only solution?

GHARIB: Stephen's death made her realize - it was time to take her mental health seriously. Those strong family ties, that feeling of wanting to protect her parents shouldn't stop her from seeking treatment. About a year-and-a-half ago, Ryan started going to therapy. Now she wants to take that message to others.

TANEP: I want to help break the stigma. And I feel like the only way is, like, for me to, like, just say it, you know, like, for - like, what I've gone through.

GHARIB: And Ryan is doing just that. Recently, she's been helping to organize mental health workshops for Filipino-Americans in Washington, D.C. She wants them to know it's OK to get treatment and there's a group of supportive Filipinos willing to listen.

Malaka Gharib, NPR News, Washington.


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