A Little Conversation Goes A Long Way

Editor's note: Thank you Surya for sharing your insightful journey of overcoming your mental health challenges within the South Asian community. 

As a teenager, there have been a number of instances where I have been through an identity crisis. Whether it’s wearing new clothes or making new friends, every teenager shuffles through experiences in his or her life in order to try and find what makes them unique. I had never struggled with stress or anxiety to a great measure in the past until I enrolled in one of the most competitive high schools in the country. It was definitely a challenge, but it was one I always wanted to take because I believed I was a hardworking student.


Immediately when I entered the school, I began noticing and interacting with like-minded individuals. As the years progressed, the competitive nature within the school became more strict, and I was forced to spend more late nights up studying so I could feel validated by my peers. Although I always loved working in a competitive environment, something felt different about this experience. The culture motivated others to find comic relief in putting others down for achieving lower scores on exams, and I ultimately found myself falling deeper and deeper into this trap with each passing day. Day by day, I grew more anxious and stressed, and there were a number of instances where I genuinely couldn’t handle the physical and emotional strain that I was being put under. Around my friends and family, I behaved normally and acted as though nothing was wrong, but underneath I was fighting a losing battle. I laughed at the lunch table when I felt like screaming; I would force myself to smile when all I wanted to do was break down. I became more anti-social and started to focus only on fulfilling other people’s expectations of who I should be.

Physically, my situation inhibited a lot of my activities. I was restless, getting a limited amount of sleep, and I was often blind to situations that were occurring around me. I had been so focused on achieving the goals that had been put in front of me that I became oblivious to the outside world. Mentally, I was unstable and too afraid to share my situation with anyone. I presented a facade of happiness to my friends and family to make it appear as if nothing was wrong, but as soon as my door shut, I began fighting another battle. I was upset and frustrated with every moment, fighting a variety of emotions just to get through the day. I became delusional, and I feared the worst was yet to come in my life. My worst moments became worse each day. Even though all of my friends could relate to my feeling in some way, they never knew exactly how I felt, so I felt that it was useless to talk about this with them.

There was a point where I truly reached a low during class one day. It was the end of the year, and I was so close to the finish line, but I still ended up breaking down and revealing my situation to one of my teachers. He was the only one who seemed to immediately recognize how I was feeling and was able to pull me out of the hole I kept digging for myself. Talking to him was the first time where I felt I could discuss my problems and seek help.  

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There exists a strong stigma towards mental health in the South Asian community; many either decide to believe that it doesn’t exist or that it is negligible in the lives of both teenagers and adults. Since there is a limited opportunity to succeed in these countries, the culture becomes shifted amongst first-generation children to fall in line with the expectations of their superiors. It is true that being at the top of the intellectual totem pole will well-serve one later in life, but at what cost? I had achieved so much, earning near perfect or perfect grades, but I still felt empty. I had great friends who cared about me, but I felt alone at almost every moment of my life. I felt that in order to try and succeed, I had to sell my soul.

Mental stress is often ignored in many groups and is brushed aside as an insignificant component of one’s well-being. Growing up, I was told that it was easy to  control the state of mind, but how could I feel so sad when all I wanted to do was be happy?

From my experience, I learned that the best thing that I could do to help my mental state was to start talking and writing about it. I started focusing on an advocating for other teenagers who were struggling with mental health issues, and I began journaling my experiences. My mental health definitely took a turn for the worse, but the conversation was ultimately the thing that got me through my difficult situation. In my opinion, the most detrimental thing I did for myself was trying to brush aside the situation and pretend that it didn’t exist. Through writing about my journey, I hope to educate those who may have a negative view towards mental health issues in all communities. Since it’s so often neglected, it is important that we, as a community, start bringing these issues to light in order to devise a collective solution.

Why is it important for you to share your story and experiences with mental health and illness?

I think that it’s important to talk about these issues because they are so often ignored by a number of communities. Mental health has a negative connotation connected to it, so I feel that it is important that conversation is stirred up in order to create a safer environment for all walks of people struggling with such issues.

- Surya
Troy, MI, USA

More about Surya: 

I am currently a senior in high school looking to spread an important message. My hobbies include playing sports and travelling. In the future, I hope to study and become a physician or a biomedical engineer. With whatever profession I choose, I hope to incorporate tackling important stigmas that exist within the society, to create more cohesive and diverse communities.

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