One Fil-Am icon is speaking about mental health and its intricate intersectionalities from culture to sexuality in this candid Q and A where it gets real. This is asienne‘s e-mail conversation with Rachel Leyco:
A: For starters, can you tell us about your Asian background and what you do.
RL: I’m a Filipina-American filmmaker and actress. They call us “multi-hypenates”–when you write, direct, produce, and star in projects and wear multiple hats.
But really, all I am is a storyteller.
I’m an addict.
Addicted to telling stores that matter. It’s very important to me to use my voice in a way that creates change and not just make entertainment for entertainment sake.
A: You’ve opened up about your own mental health struggles via instagram–for those who don’t know yet, can you tell us more about that?
RL: I’m very open about my mental health now and sometimes, it’s still scary to share those parts of me that aren’t so pretty. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II over a year ago (with symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder) but I’ve struggled with my illness since I was a child – only now did it have a name.
It’s truly affected every aspect of my life – largely my interpersonal relationships. It wasn’t until I hit my lowest that I decided to seek help. I felt so alone in my pain and knew that if I didn’t change something, it would never end.
the moment you reach out for help.
And only you can choose that.
It starts with the courage to recognize “I’m not okay.”
The reason I’m so vocal about my mental health journey is because I need people to know that they are not alone in their darkest moments. That it does get better. That they are not weak in the dark. It’s an opportunity to step into courage and into a new light.
A: What are your opinions on the importance of mental health awareness in Asian-Am communities? And why?
RL: There’s a particularly strong stigma in Asian-American communities regarding mental health. My own family dismissed my illness when they found out about it.
We don’t even talk about our own feelings in Asian families.
A lot of the talk in the household is mostly centered on academics.
My parents rarely asked “How are you?” growing up. It was a lot of “How was school? Did you get an A?” There’s nothing wrong with that. But we need to change the culture in our households. Change starts there.
I know it’s scary to talk about feelings.
Our real feelings.
It’s hard to open up to mom about that. It’s hard to tell your kids about that. But the sooner we’re open and vulnerable, the sooner we can eradicate the shame. Breaking the stigma is both easy and difficult––but the solution is simple: talk.
The more we talk, the less shame there is. The more we’re open, the less fear there is for others to be open. A part of the talk is knowledge and education.
Not many Asian-Americans are educated in mental health at all which creates a higher risk when symptoms are unrecognized and untreated.
But raising awareness is critical for every community.
So go out there and talk.
A: Can you talk more about On Stand Bi & the intersection of mental health in Asian and LGBTQ+ communities?
RL: On Stand Bi is an anthology web series following different people navigating the beautiful mess we call life. The series is meant to portray authentic experiences through the lens of the bi, pan, & fluid community.
I’m excited about this series because we’ll be introduced to many ethnic backgrounds, sexualities, and the effects these varying environments have on the characters’ mental health; especially in underrepresented communities (like people of color and LGBTQ+), mental health is rarely discussed yet we’re highly impacted by it.
The LGBTQ+ community reports higher rates of anxiety and mood disorders. Approximately 40% of bisexual people have considered or attempted suicide–add in the stigma from minority groups (Asians, Latinx, etc.).
I’ve chosen to tell stories as a way to raise awareness and create change in our communities.
For me, stories are a gateway to change.