We Need to Talk About Mental Illness and Taiwan’s Foreign Community

It is easy to be noticed on the Taiwan foreigner scene. For better or worse, we have a small ecosystem of foreigners in Taiwan. Some people take advantage of this fact and network like there is no tomorrow. Seriously, look at all your friends in Taiwan and chances are, you all have a friend in common. On the other hand, some people abuse the ecosystem to the point that all levels of discussion turn into a game of egos, and everyone is a loser. I’m not going to name names because frankly, I’ll get enough drama from posting this blog post.

Blocking has gotten out of control

Since 2016, I’ve blocked 42 people on Facebook; which is insane. Living in Beijing and Ireland, I had blocked a total of three people over a six-year period across three social media platforms. Those three people were known to me and I blocked them for my own well-being. In Taiwan, I am blocking people that I don’t know because they are ruining any chance of serious discussion.

I have asked myself so many times the “why?” of it all. Why are people going out of their way to bash others on online forums? Why are they misogynistic, mildly racist towards locals and foreigners, and why are they always trying to deride any conversation that questions the idea of non-ethnically Taiwanese people becoming Taiwanese?

The Alaska of Asia

I’ve had friends tell me that Taiwan has been attracting messed up people in the last several or so years. One friend even referred to Taiwan being the Alaska of Asia. While the sentiment is warranted, it is one that can be felt across the international community throughout Asia.

However, there’s definitely a percentage of people that come to Taiwan to:

  • Offset a sense of responsibility and reinvent themselves by coming to Taiwan.
  • Have easier access to high-paying jobs they might not otherwise have at home with less responsibility.
  • Get away with living their lives like they are still in college.

Now, I am not suggesting this is most foreigners in Taiwan. The majority of us are decent, hard-working people. However, the stereotype of lazy foreigners that come here to take easy, high-paying jobs is only really a small minority of people who unfortunately speak the loudest and offer the least. They are also the ones who get picked up more easily by tabloids in Taiwan.

I’m also not bad-mouthing English teaching. There are plenty of people who work professionally as teachers in Taiwan without resorting to anti-social behavior — both online and offline.

What I am getting at, is the group of foreign nationals in Taiwan that shout conservative rhetoric about foreigners knowing their place in Taiwan, while stereotyping Taiwanese into their own fantasy.

They are also usually the people who want to remain foreign in Taiwan, in that, they enjoy being in an “exotic land” where they are special, not only because they are from another place, but also because they are special in earning money as a result of the Taiwanese government giving native English speakers a higher wage than that of locals.

The issue of mental illness

Whether it is because some foreign nationals came to Taiwan with mental illnesses, or maybe they ended up becoming mentally ill in Taiwan, one thing is for sure, the amount of mental illness among foreign nationals is significant.

Mental health services in Taiwan aren’t fantastic for locals, with many of my friends telling me that social workers aren’t paid very well and they have too many cases and not enough people.

The issue is, when it comes to things like mental health, whether it is depression, addiction, or any other myriad of mental health problems, Taiwanese society doesn’t face it in a meaningful way yet.

Believe me, I’m not going out of my way to be all high and mighty. It has taken Ireland decades to remove itself from believing mental health issues only had to be swept under the rug or were to be only kept inside the family. Irish society has come a long way to finally be more open about mental health, which can be seen in The Rubberbandits song, Sonny.

Likewise, I think Taiwanese society will become more accepting that mental health problems are similar to physical health problems, meaning, they need to be treated by professionals and understand to not be the fault of anyone.

Many foreigners in the backdrop to Taiwanese society are basically functioning mental health problems. This is only made worse by the fact that foreigners in Taiwan are also distanced due to language barriers, and other cultural barriers. This creates a bubble that allows many foreigners to live here, and function, all the while having mental health problems that need to be addressed.

The result, there are many foreigners in Taiwan that are very visibly suffering from mental health problems with few avenues of treatment. Some can’t return home; either through the easiness of life in Taiwan or because they’ve not garnered the skills or education to find careers in their home countries that pay as well as they do here.

I’ve talked to numerous people who all agreed, mental health in Taiwan among expats is an issue and it has only gotten worse in the last decade.

I think the only group I know of that helps address some of the issues discussed here is “Live in Hope 活出希望” who raise awareness for suicide prevention, anxiety, depression and have a positive message. To find out more info, check out their Facebook page, they always have hikes going on and they all seem like wonderful people.

What about our ecosystem?

I have tried to engage with people on forums and groups and I have come to the conclusion that there is almost no point anymore. The small number of non-Asians in Taiwan — both North American and European —  makes it that those with the loudest voices are the ones heard and seen most on social media, and the detrimental effect this has on our scattered community is totally felt.

You can’t treat the international community in Taiwan like Reddit or 4chan. Everyone knows everyone here. I know a few people that made sexist and mildly racist comments against others on Facebook and lost opportunities. The problem is, the people that are most vocal here, tend to be people that:

  1. Have nothing to lose because they are already established.
  2. Or are people that are relatively new to Taiwan and don’t think about how small the community is and think they have nothing to lose.

I do feel like I am in an echo chamber more now than I ever was before because I avoid certain forums and groups. I surround myself with people of a like-minded nature, and we don’t always agree, but we at least keep things civil and invite others to share their opinions.

Closing thoughts

The majority of people that live in Taiwan have lives. Some of us decide to make the best of what we have and enjoy life here. Some of us, unfortunately, lash out at others and enjoy our own little worlds of being foreign in an exotic land. But some of us are really hurting out here, and I really think we need to push for more awareness of mental health issues in Taiwan, not just for locals, but for the international community.

If you or someone you know is suffering with a mental illness and want to seek help, please check out The Centre. This community services centre has 12 counseling psychologists that conduct 5,000 sessions a year.

 

Tomás 孫柯

11 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About Mental Illness and Taiwan’s Foreign Community

  1. Hey, smartass. Referring to the adjustment of the official number of deaths in the scariest ooga booga death camp is not raving about the holocaust, you absolute crock of shit. Nor is pointing out that the circulation of a story that the evil awful bad goyim Nazis rendered dead jews into soap was laughable propaganda.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=plaque+auschwitz+changed+number+of+dead&client=firefox-b&prmd=ivns&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiw2ZGtl-XbAhWXMt4KHbArDXwQ_AUIBSgA

    It’s a well known fact, and your reaction to learning that it exists is to block me and imply that I have a mental illness because I am more educated than you. You are a scared, petty piece of shit with no spine and a retard tier understanding of history.

    You as some kind of fucking weak Mick Paddy, aren’t you? As Jack once famously said, you can’t handle the truth.

    Now scurry off into your safe space where truth triggers you.

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  2. Hey Tomás! I’ve been meaning to follow up on that white privilege comment… lol I’m actually thinking about doing a stand up set on straight male white privilege next Monday at open mic at 23 Public! That’s off topic though…

    Glad to see you added the Community Center to the bottom of the post! I’m actually here because I just left therapy and on my way out Adam told me about it and I thought I’d look it up. Another newly formed group you might want to add is W.A.R.M. (Women Anonymous Reconnecting Mentally). I got to meet the group’s founder a couple weeks ago and they’re doing good things. It looks like I’m going to end up creating the men’s version (but perhaps with a better acronym than M.A.R.M… lol)

    I’d guess that the prevalence of mental illness in expats is the same across all countries and is just more visible in Taiwan for many of the reasons you laid out above.

    I’m actually in the process of creating a service to address a lot of the issues you bring up. I’m bipolar and have had episodes in foreign countries 3 times. I think I could quickly summarize the problem as “lack of communication and connection”. When you’re disconnected from your support system it can make mental health problems worse or perhaps arise when there were none before. Then people lack the ability to communicate their needs.

    Anyhow, thanks for bringing more awareness to the topic! Mental health is a tricky topic and any form of (healthy) discussion is welcome.

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  3. This post is great! Thank you for it! I also notice, and according to conversations, my friends do as well, that Taiwan attracts a lot of weird people. As you mentioned, they treat it as a “fresh start” and get opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. Among students, which is what I’m familiar with, if they’re not on government scholarship (once again, easy life, no responsibility, due to ridiculously low retaining requirements), there is a good chance they came either for girls (and therefore a lot of news about foreigners harassing girls in clubs), or because they wanted to go to Japan but for some reason couldn’t. A lot of misconceptions about this part of the world. One more reason I sometimes notice is that for homosexuals, it is a sort of asylum. If we compare expat communities in for example China and in Taiwan, conclusion is clear: Taiwan attracts a lot of weird people. Just my opinion

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  4. Psychiatric treatment in Taiwan follows the American model, which focuses on prescribing psychiatric drugs followed by therapy with a psychologist once the patient is stabilized. This approach has a low recovery rate compared to more community and family centered approaches practiced in countries like India. There is one major difference in Taiwan vs. the US, however, and that is that treatment is readily and easily made available, and it’s basically free for anyone on the national health insurance scheme. For people suffering from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, one huge barrier to receiving treatment is anasognosia, or the failure of the patient to understand there’s something wrong. In the US, this is the main reason these seriously ill people receive no treatment. It’s extremely difficult to force someone to receive care against their will, mainly due to civil rights that favor an individual’s freedom to choose. I believe this is horribly misguided in many cases. Psychotic people aren’t choosing to be impaired and homeless. They must present an imminent danger to themselves or others to be hospitalized by force. In Taiwan, the criteria are pretty much the same on paper, but in practice, the police and psychiatric hospital staff make it much easier for a mentally ill person to be hospitalized against their will. This saves lives and keeps severely mentally ill people from being homeless and at risk. That’s one reason you hardly see any homeless people in Taiwan. Walk around any major US city and you can’t help but notice the large homeless populations – many are suffering from debilitating brain disorders and don’t realize it, so they are not being treated. So, while it may be true they are mentally ill foreigners in Taiwan, it’s actually a much better place than the US to receive care. I just wish the Taiwanese psychiatric community would stop believing the American treatment model is better than a more holistic, community centered approach involving family and allowing the patient to continue to live in society while receiving care at home, with less emphasis on anti-psychotic drugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the new word! “Anasognosia”. I’m actually working on a mental health startup to address the “prescribing psychiatric drugs followed by therapy with a psychologist once the patient is stabilized”. I’ve had the somewhat unique experience of having been forcibly committed to mental hospitals in both the US and Taiwan. I essentially want to augment what happens with a virtual “community and family centered” approach.

      Having experienced both the US (well… more specifically Milwaukee, WI) and Taiwan I can very easy say my experience in Taiwan was much better than the US. I would guess that my experience in Milwaukee was above average from what I woud experience in most cities in the US, especially if you include rural America.

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  5. You raise several interesting points, though they don’t all seem to mesh together in a cohesive way. A sort of mixed bag of grievances. I agree with your characterization of foreigners in Taiwan. It’s not exactly an encouraging trend, and the longer I’m here, the more I understand those people who have tucked themselves away, cut off from most other foreigners… But I still think that’s a mistake. Isolation only exacerbates an existing problem. We must engage with and contribute to or local communities.

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  6. I’m curious, but because I don’t know the backstory here I’d rather not comment except to point out a minor error – the government does not set wages for anybody, except those in minimum wage jobs. The specific involvement of the government in the case of foreign English teachers is in setting the minimum number of hours a teacher must work to be eligible for an ARC. However, the enforcement of this rule is inconsistent (for a number of reasons), with the result being that there are a lot of foreign English teachers who aren’t doing quite as well as you might be led to believe.

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