Depression is a prevalent mental health condition that can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, or race or ethnicity. For Asian Americans, cultural factors and societal expectations can contribute to the under-recognition and underreporting of depressive symptoms. In addition, stigma and the lack of knowledge about depression can act as barriers to seeking professional therapy. In this blog, we will explore the signs and symptoms of depression, in hopes that a better understanding can encourage you or a loved one to seek appropriate support.
What is Depression?
Depression, or officially major depressive disorder, is diagnosed when several symptoms have been present for at least two weeks. While we all experience ‘the blues’ at different points in our lives, depression as a diagnosable condition occurs when we experience persistent sadness or persistent apathy in addition to other changes in mood or functioning. Many Asian Americans do not grow up with conversation or language about emotional health, and can have difficulty recognizing when lower mood needs attention and then seeking that attention.
Mental and Emotional Signs
Persistent Feelings of Sadness or Emptiness:
Depression often manifests as a persistent feeling of sadness or emptiness that lingers for weeks, or even months. Asian Americans may dismiss these feelings as temporary, or may dismiss them entirely as insignificant or not worth attention. For many Asian Americans who have family members who have experienced significant survival-related challenges, feelings of sadness can seem unimportant or a sign of weakness. It is important to recognize that ongoing feelings of sadness or emptiness can be signs of depression and should not be ignored.
Loss of Interest and Pleasure:
Another significant sign of depression is a noticeable loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed. Asian Americans may feel pressure to prioritize academic or career pursuits, leaving little time for hobbies or personal interests. When we do have time for fun activities but find that we’re not actually enjoying them, we can attribute that lack of joy to external factors, such as stress or fatigue. We can also attribute it to the activity itself being a waste of time. If we don’t pay attention to this loss of interest or pleasure, it can add to the feelings of emptiness and contribute to the progression and severity of depression.
Feelings of Guilt or Worthlessness:
Depression often brings up feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and self-hate. Many Asian Americans grow up in families where criticism is the norm, and responsibility is expected from a young age. Additionally, we can internalize familial and cultural pressures to succeed academically and professionally. Together, these factors can contribute to heightened self-criticism and self-judgment, and feelings of inadequacy. It is important to recognize and address these negative thoughts, as they tend to hinder rather than help.
Difficulty Concentrating and Making Decisions:
Many do not realize that depression can impair cognitive functioning, resulting in difficulties with memory, concentration, and decision-making. Asian Americans, who often face high performance expectations, may attribute these difficulties to external stressors or burnout. Additionally, many may find that difficulties with performance are criticized as character flaws, rather than understood as personal challenges. However, if these issues persist and significantly impact daily life, they may be a sign of underlying depression.
Sleep disturbances can include difficulty falling asleep, interrupted or disrupted sleep, or excessive sleep. Asian Americans, particularly those who face high academic or professional expectations, can often prioritize productivity over sleep. Moreover, those who notice increased sadness or apathy may attribute those feelings to exhaustion and try to sleep more. Alternatively, those who did not learn different ways to deal with emotional distress may default to sleep as their go-to coping mechanism.
Fatigue and Loss of Energy:
Feeling persistently fatigued and/or experiencing a significant loss of energy is a prominent symptom of depression. Asian Americans may try to push through these feelings of fatigue, given familial and cultural expectations of hard work and perseverance. Plus, with fatigue as a common sign of most physical illnesses, many may not recognize it as a possible sign of depression. As a result, they may try to treat fatigue as part of other physical conditions instead. It can help to consider whether the fatigue and lack of energy is persistent, even with additional rest and reduced activity.
Changes in Appetite and Weight:
For many Asian Americans, depression can manifest in changes in appetite and weight. Some individuals may experience a significant increase in appetite and weight, while others may have a diminished appetite and weight loss. Because appetite and weight can fluctuate normally or due to busy schedules, it can be difficult to identify as a sign of depression. Weight gain may lead to increased criticism from others, further heightening negative thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, for those who have faced strict body standards in their families, weight loss may be seen externally as a positive change. Regardless, these changes can be indicative of depression and need to be taken seriously.
Social Withdrawal and Isolation:
Depression can make it difficult for individuals to want to engage in social activities, or to maintain relationships. Many Asian Americans were raised with ideals of stoicism and “saving face,” or maintaining an external perception of dignity. As a result, many may believe they should hide and cope with their emotional struggles independently and silently. Plus, cultural norms of collective identity may further isolate individuals who are struggling, out of fear that their struggles will affect the external perception of their families.
Tackling Depression in Therapy
If you recognize any of these signs of depression, know that you do not have to feel this way forever. While depression symptoms may decrease over time on their own, you deserve to be supported in these difficult times. As Asian American therapists, we understand that cultural and societal factors can complicate experiences of depression, and we are here to help. You can learn to manage these symptoms and feel hope for happier times ahead.
Begin Working with An Asian American Therapist in Los Angeles, CA, and New York, NY
At our Los Angeles, CA, and New York City, NY-based therapy practice, we have many skilled, culturally sensitive therapists who can help you manage and navigate symptoms of depression. For your added convenience and simplicity, we offer online therapy for anyone in the state of California or New York. We know that your mental health is important, and we want to help you work through whatever’s holding you back. Follow the steps below to begin.
- Fill out the contact form to get connected with us.
- Get matched with one of our therapists.
- Start processing the ways that complex trauma may be impacting you.
Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective
There are many options for treatment using online therapy in California and New York, it just depends on what you’re needing. And while we certainly service Asian American folks, we also work with individuals from other cultures, too. So, whether you’re needing support in overcoming anxiety, burnout, trauma, or PTSD, we can help. Likewise, we serve teens and couples in need of support, too. So when you start online therapy with us, you can bring your whole self, including past struggles, cultural impacts, and more.