As[I]Am founder Jordan Alam reflects on a zine she made during her time at Barnard, focused on the mental health issues particular to Asian American women. The resource provides an entry point into some contributing factors: stigma around seeking institutionalized help, the model minority myth, microaggressions, homo/transphobia among families, and body image.
I was sitting with an interviewee with the tape recorder on, watching as her whole body contracted. I leaned forward and took a deep breath; she launched into a detailed description of her recovery process.
When I embarked on the project of researching the relationship that Asian American women college students had with mental health and mental healthcare, I knew these stories were coming, but it didn’t make hearing them any easier. Statistics tell a meager version of the pain experienced by many Asian Americans, not just young and not just women.
My work to write a paper and disseminate a zine still ultimately generalizes those experiences, yet it also opens a conversation that many have not seen in mainstream media. How are these experiences different? How do we provide the best care for people in these communities when they cannot access or do not trust the American mental health system and have culturally specific types of mental healthcare that deserve respect?
I am no pioneer on delving into these questions. Academics, facilitators, healers, service providers, activists, family, and friends have been addressing the needs of Asian American women long before me. Most of their responses are created for survival, and are not standardized (nor should they necessarily be standardized). Since I have completed this project, I have been open to so many new ways of conceiving mental health — from somatic practices to faith-based responses alongside medication and talk therapy.
This zine is a very small piece of a much larger discussion, but it opens up some of the misconceptions we may have when service provision operates within systems of oppression (white supremacy, patriarchy, ageism, etc.) and assumes we can use the same responses to a variety of different needs. Use it with the note that it’s a jumping off point, not a remedy — for that recovery, we have much more work to do.
JORDAN ALAM is a Bengali American writer, activist, and Barnard ’13 grad. She’s perpetually juggling passions including making zines, training to be a doula, and volunteering in domestic violence response. She keeps a personal blog called The Cowation.