“What’s wrong?”, your mother asks which brings you back to reality. You reply “nothing” as always. Except it isn’t nothing. You need someone to talk to. You feel your anxiety creeping up, trying to consume you whole. Unfortunately, that someone you need cannot be your mother because anxiety does not exist. Not to her, not to your family, not in your culture. You feel as though you are left to suffer alone in silence. Silence, in turn, can negatively influence your development inside and outside the home. It is your anxiety versus your culture.
Most of us crave parental acceptance more than we are willing to admit. Parental acceptance embraces an expression of warmth. Things such as a hug or merely listening to a child and how they are feeling, can go a long way. If a parent outwardly denies the existence of their child’s anxiety, it makes the child believe their feelings are invalid. Ignoring the problem altogether can potentially inflate it. It can lead to depression, stunt their social and behavioral development, and lead to social anxiety in the future. Often, people who come from such a background tend to not only disregard their feelings of anxiety, but start to develop a habit of disregarding all of their feelings as a whole.
A deeper factor we can explore is why many ethnic cultures do not believe that mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression exist. An individual may find it difficult to tell their mother what is bothering them because her beliefs are so deeply rooted in her culture. In 2010, Harvard Psychiatrists conducted a study in which they investigated whether certain races were more susceptible to symptoms of anxiety than others were. They determined that participants from a Caucasian background were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety than participants of Black or Hispanic origins, even if the symptoms stopped the latter group from going to work or school, or otherwise impacted their daily lives. The researchers realized that cultures may also experience different symptoms of anxiety. Everyone is different and therefore we experience things differently, even if placed in the same environment. As a result, people have different definitions of anxiety. Other factors including socioeconomic status, immigration, and opportunities given can contribute to the reasons why different cultures turn a blind eye to anxiety and its effects. We cannot directly establish that culture is the reason that anxiety is not acknowledged in general within ethnic households, however it does raise a major concern for those who suffer from anxiety in silence.
We observe that in ethnic communities, words associated with anxiety such as “unsettling nervousness” and “discomfort” are overlooked as an exaggerated feeling. These words and phrases should not be used to undermine the feelings of the person suffering from anxiety. It leads the individual to the conclusion that their parents are right and what they are feeling does not exist. Those suffering from anxiety tend to hide their feelings from their parents because they are afraid of seeming weak in front of the people that raised them and are worried about seeming incapable of handling life’s trials and tribulations. However, these ethnic cultures fail to understand that something miniscule to a grown adult, may feel monumental to the child suffering from anxiety. Consequently, these children feel discouraged about the obstacles at hand.
No one should feel like their emotions are invalid. Our cultural backgrounds should not place limitations on us to the extent where we cannot express our feelings of anxiousness and be comfortable enough to ask for help. The next time a mother asks her child what is wrong, the child should feel confident in saying more than just “nothing.” Finally, the mother should have open ears and arms to whatever the real answer may be because communication is essential to building bridges of support for those that need it, especially individuals as vulnerable as children.
Beaton, C. (2017, November 9). Is Anxiety a White-People Thing? Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mb35b8/is-anxiety-a-white-people-thing.
Free Image on Pixabay – Love, Loving, Me, Child, Hope. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/love-loving-me-child-hope-prayer-1833160/.
Gray, Calonie & Carter, Rona & Silverman, Wendy. (2011). Anxiety Symptoms in African American Children: Relations with Ethnic Pride, Anxiety Sensitivity, and Parenting. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 20. 205-213. 10.1007/s10826-010-9422-3.