Race, Inequality

This tarot deck is empowering Asian Americans to confront mental health in radical ways

Community care is just as radical of a practice as self-care.

Mental health in the Asian American community is a crisis that’s been ignored for far too long.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that Asian Americans disproportionately experience suicide and suicide ideation at higher rates than any other racial group. Asian Americans are also less likely than white individuals to seek help for their mental health issues, with Asian American women being even less likely than Asian American men to do so.

As an Asian American woman acknowledging my own mental health struggles, this reality couldn’t be more salient.

I was 16-years-old when I finally accepted the word “depression” after years of denying I was experiencing symptoms of it. Mental health was never uttered at the dinner table or in family conversations, so I was afraid to talk to my parents about what I was experiencing.

When I started experiencing more depressive episodes, I felt shame from something I perceived as a weakness. When my sister was going through her own mental health struggles, my dad urged us not talk about it to anyone outside the family, so I conditioned myself to believe silence was okay.

The reality is that Asian Americans are simply not having the conversations we need to have to examine the intersection of mental health and race in our everyday lives, and this is hurting our community in alarming ways.

But Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis and Mimi Khuc from the Asian American Literary Review (AALR) are fighting to change how Asian Americans are approaching their mental well-being. In fact, they want to challenge existing approaches to mental health in the U.S. and adopt an approach that is rooted in community healing.

The Asian American Tarot: A Mental Health Project is decolonizing mental health and illustrating the unique experiences and mental health struggles of the community through a self-representative deck of tarot cards.

Born from a Kickstarter campaign and a nod to fortune-telling and spiritual practices in Asian communities, the goal of the 22-deck tarot cards is to show that Asian American life is multifaceted and is not a single-story narrative. It includes card archetypes such as the model minority, the adoptee, the refugee, as well as others that highlight sexuality, gender, and motherhood—to name a few.

Approaching the Asian American experience as a multifaceted experience is important in addressing mental health in our community. In order to better understand the community’s struggles, we must be cognizant of both individuality and intersectionality.

The goal of these cards is to also start critical conversations on Asian American life and shed a kind of light on mental health issues in the Asian American community that’s never seen before. Self-care and compassion are important to our mental wellness, but community care is just as radical of a practice.

The Asian American tarot deck is a part of a special project by the AALR called “Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health.” This special issue seeks to unpack what wellness, unwellness, and care actually looks like in the Asian American community. Contributing writers, artists, scholars, teachers and survivors seek to answer this question with the project: What does care look like on a community level?

The box not only includes the deck of tarot cards, but it also includes a collectively woven tapestry of experiences that reimagines community care and healing, an Asian American edition of a “mock” DSM (with alternate understandings of wellness and unwellness), a pamphlet on postpartum depression, and intergenerational mother-to-daughter letters.

Asian American Studies programs and courses across universities are now utilizing the issue to engage the academic community in a national conversation that challenges and grows how we understand mental well-being. So far, 10 professors at nine universities have already pledged to participate in the teaching program.

This project is a reminder to the Asian American community that we don’t have to be silent about mental health or alone in our struggles with it. The Asian American community is resilient, and the more we understand the complexities of race, identity and mental health, the better we will be able to heal ourselves and support our community.