Mritika Senthil, Community Engagement Specialist at the Asian Americans with Disabilities Initiative, reflects for AAPI Heritage Month.
My name is Mritika Senthil and I am currently serving as the Community Engagement Specialist at the Asian Americans with Disabilities Initiative. I’m also currently a student at a boarding school in South Carolina. One thing that South Carolina is unfortunately known for is that it’s public schools often don’t meet national rankings, but the schools that I currently go to sort of tries to move away from that.
And it’s actually ranked very well nationally. So there’s often those ideas that as students begin to transition to the school they become very overwhelmed academically, as they’re faced with a new rigor that they haven’t experienced. So when I first came to school, I too was overwhelmed. I was struggling with physics and I was generally sad all the time.
And people have told me, you know, “this is normal”, “I’m an adolescent”, “this is expected of me in this new environment”. But gradually these symptoms sort of began to worsen on what began as just excessive crying, sort of transitioned to social isolation and binge eating. I was eating over four times the amount of calories I normally eat and ultimately came to apathy where I really just had a disregard for my general wellbeing. I was very complacent recording my health.
And so I began to realize that there was sort of a problem. But unfortunately, on the exterior I seem to be doing fine. I was always very academically ambitious and although my academic performance wasn’t at its initial level, it did decrease. And I’d also been very interested in public speaking, and I did continue these activities.
And so, whenever I tried to communicate with people, they often told me that, you know, I didn’t seem to have any type of depressive symptoms on the outside, even though I just had a general discontent with my daily living. Ultimately, my family and friends did take me to a healthcare professional.
Well, one thing I was surprised by was that instead of diagnosing me immediately, people often tend to question my parents and accused them of “tiger parenting” because the Indian American communities and Asian American communities are unfortunately stereotyped as pressuring on high-achieving students.
So gradually up through seeing it in numerous psychologists — psychiatrist, we ultimately realize I did have depression and anxiety that was at a debilitating level. And one thing that I was sort of surprised by was that I was actually eligible to receive accommodations and that people with depression can qualify for social security benefits depending on the severity. And thankfully due to my school’s willingness to comply to these accommodations and medications, I gradually did improve.
But one thing that continued to be frustrating was that my symptoms are often really just undermined to being something that was a consequence of Asian American parenting, or the pressures Asian Americans place on themselves.
So one thing that I really thought about my experiences were what would have happened if races was taken out of the question and the process had become more streamlined and also realized that disability and debilitating conditions are not necessarily something you can see physically and they can be something temporary, they can be something mental. So I think my idea from this was really just that we shouldn’t place disability or ethnic groups in boxes.
One thing that I hope that we move towards is really just taking out racial stereotypes when attempting to diagnose someone’s disability or mental health condition, and also not defining disability on the basis of its physical attributes or against stereotypes.
So with that happy AAPI Heritage Month, as well as Mental Health Month.