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Mental Health Stigma in the Hmong Community

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

I am proud to be Hmong, and I find our culture to be incredibly rich and beautiful. Our art, music, and traditions are colorful and meaningful. We are also known for our humility, strong sense of family, and respect for our elders.

Psychotherapy is a foreign concept for traditional Hmong people. Historically, our culture has viewed mental health issues as “soul” problems best handled by a shaman or spiritual leader. It's never easy for any of us to admit or accept that we need help. It's hard, uncomfortable, and an incredibly vulnerable thing to do. Hmong culture can make reaching out for help even more difficult. Our culture discourages talking about our feelings, experiences, and hurt. When we do, we may feel judged, shamed, or dismissed. Hmong men may be seen as weak, and Hmong women may be seen as emotionally unstable. When we experience family issues like abuse or infidelity, we may be told this is just how things are. We’re taught that whatever happens within our family stays there, and no one else needs to know. We are told that family is the only thing that matters, no matter how much they cause us heartache or pain.

As we were growing up, many of us were told to stop crying and get over it, or that we were just being crazy. We may have felt confused about how we felt and had no one to talk to. When we tried to talk about it, we may have been shamed or told to stop being dramatic. We may have felt like no one cared. We may have emotions we have never been able to discuss with anyone.

I want you to know that all of these things matter. You matter. Your story matters. What if being honest about how you feel and vulnerable about what you've experienced is actually normal? What if it didn't show weakness but demonstrated strength and a deep understanding of who you are and want to be?

It's okay to be confused, to ask questions, and to ask for help. Therapy does not mean that there is something fundamentally wrong with who you are. Therapy can help you gain the tools you need to navigate the difficult and challenging moments, and it can help you make sense of what has happened and help you find ways to move forward. Therapy can provide new perspectives that may be more fruitful and helpful for your life.

Being Hmong is a beautiful thing, something to be proud of. But we need to accept that some of the things we have been taught do not serve us well. To do better and live better, we must begin to challenge the stigma of mental health issues and create an atmosphere of acceptance and support in our community for mental health issues. Like seeking medical care when needed, reaching out for counseling or psychotherapy from a therapist who understands and respects our culture is an important part of taking care of ourselves.

Runy Thao, LCSWA provides psychotherapy for Wisdom Path, PLLC. She offers in person appointments for adults in the Morganton, NC area and telehealth appointments for anyone in North Carolina. Appointments can be scheduled at 828-475-6544.

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