Koko Nishi learned gaman from her grandmother. Gaman describes the act of persevering through challenging times, the seemingly unbearable, with patience and poise. It’s a mindset by which many Japanese people ― including Nishi, a third-generation Chinese Japanese born in the U.S. ― live their lives. It’s also one of the reasons Nishi didn’t seek therapy in college, at a time she needed it the most. Nishi had failed her first class, an undergraduate organic chemistry course that was part of her plan to someday go to medical school, and it left her feeling emotionally wrecked.
“I thought there was something wrong with me,” Nishi, who is now a psychologist, told HuffPost. “I think that’s one of the times when I realized I was holding in so much, and it was really unhealthy…[Gaman] taught me resilience and helped me overcome a lot of challenges, but at the same time, I internalized a lot of my emotions,” Nishi explained. “I didn’t get to process what was happening or understand how I was feeling, or communicate what I needed.”
Asians, which make up the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., are three times less likely than any other ethnic group to seek help, though that doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. According to Mental Health America, 13% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders had a diagnosable mental illness in 2016.
HuffPost talked to several psychologists, including Nishi, to break down what stops Asian Americans from getting the mental health services they need ― and it begins with a complicated version of shame. The shame to seek help comes from many sources, including the model minority myth.
Nishi now provides therapy to students at San Diego State University and hosts an organization that helps students with Asian and Pacific Islander backgrounds. Many Asian cultures have a concept similar to gaman, which Nishi said “loosely translates to ‘suck it up,’” and it makes students hesitant to seek help because they’re ashamed of not seeming emotionally tough.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency, provides funding for organization and programs that tackle these problems, including the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health. Nishi co-created a workshop where people can share their stories about what it’s like to grow up as Asian or Pacific Islander in the U.S. and talk openly about the problems they face. She sees it as a way for the community to understand they’re not alone in their struggles.
“I think we [Asians] tend to feel like we’re invisible,” Nishi said. “It’s a space for folks to get their story heard, have their voices heard and validated.”
Read more on HuffPost.com.