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Mental Health in the Asian American Community

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Image courtesy of NPR

The recent celebration of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, 2020, was a meaningful day for everyone, especially this year when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These past months have brought many challenges for health care workers, businesses, college students, parents and teachers; these changes may have affected their mental health conditions. However, mental health concerns in Asian American communities preexisted the COVID-19 pandemic. One’s mental health is often overlooked within the Asian community, and a great deal of stigma remains around mental illness and poor mental health. According to an Anxiety and Depression Association of America article, “Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than other Americans.” Many still face barriers to accessing services and support because discussing mental health concerns are considered taboo and often treated as shameful and embarrassing in many Asian cultures. As a result, Asian Americans tend to dismiss, deny or neglect their symptoms.

It is important to recognize that the term “AAPI” (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) encompasses a wide range of countries, ethnicities, nationalities and identities. Many different communities within the AAPI label face unique challenges: parental pressure and expectations to succeed in academics, discrimination due to racial, cultural or religious background and family obligations based on strong traditional and cultural values. One main issue that is still circulating within the Asian American community is the anxiety felt by the children of first-generation immigrants in balancing two different cultures and developing a bicultural sense of self. This brings about challenges when one is confronted with the differences found in both cultures: traditional culture and modern culture. Children of first-generation immigrants are expected to continue the dreams that their parents have always wanted but could not fulfill during their generation. The children’s mental condition might jeopardize their families’ hopes and dreams of creating a better life for themselves.

It can be daunting when addressing one's mental health, especially when it can impact your family's name. According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2010, "Mental Health Among Asian Americans," “most young Asian Americans tend to seek out support from personal networks such as close friends, family members and religious community members rather than seek professional help for their mental health concerns.” This is an issue that has long existed in Asian households and still does to this day. By addressing one’s condition and concern, it brings shame to their family’s name and the traditional values that almost all Asian families uphold. But mostly, the younger generation feels guilty about sharing their mental health struggles, fearing they may seem insignificant when compared with their parents’ and grandparents’ hardships. While it might be a struggle for the younger generation to express their condition to their parents, it can also be difficult for their parents as first-generation immigrants to comprehend the topic of mental health. Many first-generation immigrants react defensively when mental health is discussed due to a lack of understanding, which causes them to deny or neglect these issues.

For many people, the first step is always the hardest but it gets a little easier in the next step. However, that does not exist in the Asian American community, as it is an arduous effort to escape from the structural barriers within the community. There exist challenges such as access to healthcare and insurance due to immigration status and financial obstacles. Also, some Asian American families may have difficulty accessing mental health services because of the language barrier. Service providers are not always trained to understand and address culturally specific mental health issues, which have led to misdiagnoses and under-diagnoses of mental illness. What can someone do as an outsider to the Asian American community? First, have difficult conversations about mental health and the barriers faced in Asian American communities. Next, educate BIPOC communities about mental health and the resources available to them. Finally, encourage mental health providers to promote cultural competency and diversity. Remember: seeking help is not shameful.

By Hannah Taib, Contributing Writer

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