“We’re taught to not show emotions”

Mental health disorders among working-class college students from immigrant backgrounds often goes overlooked. I’m here to shed a light on the issue.

Tamara Syed
5 min readMay 4, 2017


College student sleeping by D. Sharon Pruitt (via Wikimedia Commons)

As a working college student from an immigrant family living with depression and anxiety — some days are an uphill battle. The coffee is bad, traffic sucks, and my life is a mess. How can I continue to go on like this?

Simple: I celebrate even the smallest of successes.

The coffee is bad but at least I made it out of bed, traffic does suck but I made it out of the house, and my life may seem like a mess but I’m working towards improving it every day.

Personally, as the youngest daughter of immigrants, I couldn’t talk to my parents because they didn’t know how to help. My family isn’t the ‘sit down at the dinner table and tell me about your day’ type — they always preferred to eat in front of the T.V.

Mental health often goes overlooked because of the stigmas associated with depression and anxiety. An absence of knowledge of these disorders can have dire consequences and may even lead to suicide: 30 percent to 70 percent of suicide victims suffer from major depression.

“It’s a really common challenge to not be able to talk to your family especially if you come from an immigrant background,” Diane Jung Gallo, a psychologist at CSUN’s counseling center said. “It’s essential to have safe spaces to talk, among friends or the counseling center is a great place to start.”

Feroze Sio, an Afghani-American studying Kinesiology at CSUN, comes from an immigrant background and suffers from anxiety, “It’s difficult to talk to my family — because especially for guys, we’re taught to not show emotions.”

Feroze Sio, a CSUN student, works part-time as a pizza delivery man. (Photo courtesy of Feroze Sio)

Cracking jokes in between each question, Sio’s sincerity and laughter broke up the tension in our heavy conversation, “A lot of kids from immigrant families are so messed up because they never talk about their emotions and don’t have the ability to express themselves.”

At the start of the semester I was juggling two part-time jobs, an internship, volunteer work and a busy school schedule. My depression began to sink in because of a lack of sleep and time to myself, so I quit one of my jobs and had to cut back on my volunteer hours.

“The biggest challenge for working-class college students with depression is balancing multiple roles,” Gallo said.

Gallo was genuinely enthusiastic and carefully selected each articulated word, “Something I like to tell students is to try to think of counseling in the same way that you see your medical doctor or primary care physician,” she said. “Mental health is similar, in that when we’re not feeling emotionally well, it’s healthy to check-in with a professional about it.”

According to Mental Health America, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about mental health, only 35 percent of Americans receive treatment for their depression. Although, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance reports that 80 percent of those treated for depression show an improvement in their symptoms generally within four to six weeks of beginning treatment.

Gallo touched on some of the stereotypes behind therapy, “Seeking help when you need it doesn’t mean ‘something’s wrong with you’ or that ‘you’re crazy’ or that ‘you’re weak.’”

A timeline of mental health treatment in the United States.

For Eduardo Loza, a Deaf Studies major at CSUN and a part time Wal-Mart employee, he never sought treatment for his depression because he was afraid it would effect his future. “It’ll go on my record and it’ll effect my applications in the workforce,” Loza said.

Eduardo Loza balances working at Wal-Mart and his studies at CSUN. (Photo courtesy of Eduardo Loza)

I assured Loza that therapy remains confidential and doesn’t go on your ‘record’ — his demeanor changed, he seemed relieved but all the while, hesitant.

A cheerful individual with a boisterous laugh, you wouldn’t think Loza suffered from depression, “There’s stigmas against people with depression that they’re always sad, don’t have future goals or might take their own life.”

Currently studying at CSUN, I remember reaching out to the counseling center to join one of their depression workshops. I didn’t hear back until a couple of weeks later — they had cancelled the workshop due to low enrollment.

I’m often told that I seem ‘so happy’ and I couldn’t possibly have depression. It’s time to put an end to the stigmas and start listening to those silent cries for help.

Drag the slider to the left to see my range of emotions in a given day.

Mental health is a rising issue among college students in the U.S. and for those of us that can’t find support from their families or are balancing work and school it can be especially challenging.

Take back control of your mental health — it all starts with seeking out help. Find what works for you, if a therapist or counselor doesn’t seem like the right fit — find someone else. The depression workshop at my school was cancelled but that didn’t stop me from looking for other options.

When I started attending therapy, I was really scared and thought ‘what if this person thinks I’m crazy?’ or ‘what if my problems seem insignificant?’ but all the fears subsided once I went to my first appointment.

Every week I felt an improvement in my overall mental health, things started to make sense and openly talking to someone who is completely unbiased and nonjudgmental alleviated a lot of mental tension.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health disorder, don’t be afraid to seek out help. All it takes is one phone call and once that initial fear is conquered— nothing will stand in your way.

To seek out resources and counseling centers for mental health treatment in your area please visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.



Tamara Syed