Mental Illness and the Model Minority Myth

Discussing Mental Health in Asian American Families

By Grace Shefcik

CAPS Peer Educator Grace Shefcik shares her personal experiences with mental illness and her perspective on how to discuss issues related to mental health within the Asian American community.
The first time I spoke to my mom about mental illness, she seemed uncomfortable. I knew it was a topic she was not well versed in, but regardless of how much I tried to familiarize her, the best I could get was her support for me to go to therapy.

Through time, her perception seemed to shift. At first, her ability to succeed and live a happy life despite major difficulties made my problems appear to not hold enough merit to lead to a mental illness. I grew up in a stable home, did not have to flee the country, only had to focus on one language, and overall, I had the opportunity to devote my life to school without major barriers. What was there to be upset about? She routinely expressed this not only to me, but to my therapist and father, who eventually showed her that mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what you have been through. Pain is subjective. What I experienced is very similar to what other Asian American and 1st/2nd generational families have – the pressure and expectation of being the “Model Minority.”

Members of the model minority are expected to be smart (particularly good at math and science), wealthy, obedient, self-reliant, and most glaringly – immune to mental illness. Not only does one’s family or culture create this picture, but the media also perpetuates these ideas.  These can all be healthy things to strive for, but if the pressure of one’s family or culture becomes too much, especially when one can’t adhere to the expectations, it can take a major toll. Potentially, the negative impact can be large enough that admitting this model is not you or that you need help can be humiliating, often resulting in anger and/or denial from yourself and others. Continue reading


Panic Attacks 101

Hello everyone!

I hope all y’all are hanging in there for Week 10. Around this time last quarter, while fretting about my final papers and graduate school applications, I had an experience that I never expected. While walking back to my apartment at 1 in the morning, I was halfway up the stairs when I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I felt dizzy, like I was about to black out. My heart was pounding rapidly, and I started sweating despite the cold air. I sat down on the steps, and tried to collect my thoughts. Finally, I realized that I was having a panic attack.

I first learned about panic attacks right before fall quarter last year. In my positions as a CAPS Peer Educator and as a Resident Assistant, I was required to participate in Mental Health First Aid training. In the training session, I received a really cool book, Mental Health First Aid USA, that gives instructions and advice for identifying and assisting people that are having mental health crises. All of my statistics and advice in this article come directly from that book and my own experience!

Although some people do have anxiety or panic disorders that cause them to experience panic attacks, it is actually fairly common for other people to have panic attacks, especially in high-stress environments. In fact, more than one in five people experience at least one panic attack in their lifetime.

So what exactly is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a distinct episode of high anxiety with fear or discomfort. The attack develops abruptly and has its peak within ten minutes.

Continue reading

CAPS Student Hero: Nathaleen Palomino

Nathaleen Palomino - CAPS Peer Educator

Nathaleen Palomino – CAPS Peer Educator

We hope that everyone is coping well with the second-to-last week of the quarter! This Friday we would like to encourage all of you to take a breather and meet one of our CAPS student heroes. This week we are introducing the incredible Nathaleen Palomino! Nat brings a unique perspective to the PEP team, and we are so happy to have her. Thank you for all your hard work, Nat!

What’s your favorite part about being a UCSC student?

My favorite part about being a UCSC student is being able to be part of a community that shares the same passion for social justice and change. I appreciate the collective efforts around campus to promote educational programs and host influential speakers. I also love being able to enjoy our beautiful environment and clear night skies full of glittering stars!

Tell us about something you’re passionate about outside of school (e.g., clubs, hobbies, interests, volunteering, activities, etc.)

Outside of school, my heart belongs to rugby. Rugby is a lifestyle and a culture of its’ own. The girls on the team are my family and we play the game for each other and for the love of the sport. There are no pads, no helmets, we just have the best sport ever. It is a game that in order to go forward you must go backwards and it is a game where your bruises become your badges of honor.  It has allowed me to find beauty in strength and helped me realize that the pain that I feel today is my strength for tomorrow.

If you could share one thing that you’d like your peers to know about CAPS, what would it be?

One thing I would like to share is that the staff and students working for CAPS are genuinely compassionate people who prioritize the health of students. They are doing their best to accommodate for the influx of students in need of psychological and counseling services by initiating new programs, groups and workshops. Now, it is up to the students to make the best use of those services to continue programs such as Let’s Talk, which is a free and anonymous opportunity to speak with a professional counselor.

Nathaleen Palomino is a fifth year Psychology major affiliated with College Ten.