Discussing Mental Health in the Asian American Community

Asian Americans are affected by mental illness as much as any other group in the United States, but utilize mental health services far less often than any other ethnic group in America. Asia is the largest continent in the world, ranging from the Indian Ocean to the Arctic Circle, and includes ethnicities and cultures as diverse as India, China, Russia, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Every culture addresses mental illness and privacy differently, but there are several areas where attitudes toward mental illness and treatment overlap.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 13.9% of Asian adults in the United States are affected by mental illness. But Asian Americans’ use of mental health services is lower than any other ethnicity: just 5.3% of women and 4.4% of men use mental health services. Let’s dive into some of the reasons for this:

Lack of discussion surrounding mental illness. Perhaps due to the “model minority” myth often foisted upon the Asian American community, the topic of mental illness is rarely discussed publicly. But the Asian American community has mental health issues like any other. In a culture that prizes academic achievement, it is easy to mistake doing well for feeling well. Cultural pressure from Asian American families on children to do well and achieve highly may hinder recognizing and talking about their mental health if it is perceived as a weakness.

Not seeking help from medical professionals. When experiencing mental health issues, some Asian Americans may reach out only to those in their close networks. While support from family, friends, and religious figures is very important in addressing mental illness, speaking to a mental health professional is also paramount. A lack of providers who understand Asian cultures may be a barrier for people seeking services, but resources are available to help people find therapists in or near their communities.

Language barriers. The size and breadth of the Asian American communities includes more than 100 languages and dialects. For some Asian Americans who don’t speak English, language can be a barrier to treatment. The stigma their community might have around mental illness could already make it difficult to discuss mental health, and a difficulty communicating may only compound that.

Asian Americans are 3 times less likely to look for mental health treatment than the general population. Breaking the silence surrounding mental illness is vital in ensuring individuals receive the care they need. Learn more here