Mental Health Stigma: ASIJ

Mental Health Stigma: ASIJ

This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.


Courtyard of the American School in Japan

My name is Ashley Cornwell and I am currently a sophomore at the American School in Japan.  I’ve decided to focus my Catalyst Conference on mental health stigma and prejudice regarding the school environment at ASIJ.  I lived in the US for over a decade prior to my move to Tokyo a few years back, and besides the differences in language and culture between the two nations, I’ve also noticed an enormous difference concerning mental health.  While it seems that stigma all throughout the United States is slowly vanishing, the prejudice is still relevant in Japanese society and even in the ASIJ community today. However, rather than focusing my conference on the stigma within the Japanese people, I’m determined to lessen the mental health stigma within the international community, specifically ASIJ, and by doing so, creating more awareness targeting stigma that is prevalent in my school’s community.


Mental health stigma refers to the prejudicial attitudes directed towards certain individuals with mental health problems (Davey).  The source of this stigma can be traced back to hundreds of years, and as asylums gained major popularity in the eighteenth century, the stigma seemed to worsen.  However, following the prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among soldiers following the World Wars, public compassion for mental stigma increased (Cressman).

Similarly to stigma in the West, the prejudice in Japan dates back hundreds of years.  It was believed that mental illness had a direct correlation with an individual’s weakness of character.  Japanese society considered it to be shameful to have a mental illness, as it was implied that one had the responsibility to control the development of mental illness (“Stigma on Mental”).  Nonetheless as Western psychology and thinking continues to influence Japan, it can be assumed that the stigma regarding mental health in the nation is slowly decreasing.


In high school specifically, there are lots of pressures that students have to deal with regarding colleges, friends, peer and even parental pressures.  With all of this, comes stress, and there is no doubt that with a tremendous amount of stress, some students may develop a mental illness such as anxiety or even depression.  Mental health stigma at ASIJ is obviously still very existent, as with other schools throughout the world. On top of that, the Japanese mental health prejudice may have a negative impact on the stigma at ASIJ as well.

To see how students at ASIJ currently view mental illness, I decided to conduct some research myself.  I sent out a simple anonymous google survey on my class of 2020’s Facebook page and asked if people could fill it out if they had the time.  The results were very surprising. Out of the 40 people who filled out the survey, only 37.5% of people felt safe opening up about their mental health to students, counselors, or teachers at ASIJ.  In addition, 70% of students agreed that mental illness is looked down or frowned upon at ASIJ. These percentages are very appalling and something must be done.  As mentioned beforehand, my mission is to lessen mental health stigma at ASIJ.  My goal is to create an environment in which students feel more comfortable opening up about their mental illnesses or troubles, whether it be to a fellow student or even the school counselor.


I’ve noticed that at ASIJ, many of the school’s humanitarian clubs spread their messages through the use of posters.  These posters are hung up all around the school including the halls, the book locker room, and even in the bathroom. My plan is to place informative posters about mental health all around ASIJ to raise more awareness.  I’m hoping that if people are more educated on mental health, they will be more empathetic and accepting of it.


My next step is to talk to the administration about having speakers come to my school to discuss mental health to students.  Every once in a while, speakers from all over the world will come to my school to talk about their occupations, organizations, or to raise awareness on certain matters.  To have a speaker from the world of mental health would be a great learning experience in which students can acquire more knowledge regarding mental health.

If you have the time, please fill out the survey below, it would be greatly appreciated. (Please don’t feel obligated to write something down for every section.)

Mental Health Survey


American School in Japan. The American School in Japan, Accessed 23 Apr. 2018.

Cressman, Abbey. “Mental Health: Tracing the History of Stigma.” Museum of Health Care, 15 July 2014, Accessed 19 Apr. 2018.

Davey, Graham C.L. “Mental Health & Stigma.” Psychology Today, Aug. 2013, Accessed 19 Apr. 2018.

Head outline in bright colors. Murray Securus, 23 May 2017, Accessed 23 Apr. 2018.

“Stigma on Mental Illness in Japan: Causes, Consequences and Suggestions for Improvement.” Understanding International Mental Health, 28 May 2015, Accessed 19 Apr. 2018.

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  1. April 30, 2018 by leilani.ahina

    This is a great start at addressing this challenging issue. Your perspective, having lived in the US prior to going to ASIJ, is a compelling one. I enjoyed reading about your observations and the contrast between the two. I really like that you kept your project “local” – challenging next steps, but I hope you explore them.

    • April 30, 2018 by Ashley Cornwell

      Thank you for the feedback! I will definitely try to expand my next steps.

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