The “model minority stereotype” of Asian Americans perceives them to be hardworking, and academically, economically, and socially successful when compared to all other racial minority groups. Because of this, Asian Americans are assumed to be at less risk of mental health problems. Then how do we explain that Asian American college students are 1.6 times more likely to seriously consider suicide than white students? And why is suicide the number one cause of death in Asian American teens?
Asian Americans are three times less likely to disclose mental health problems and utilize mental health resources when compared to white people, which gives us the false impression that they suffer less from mental health issues. The reality is that Asian Americans have factors that make them especially prone to mental health problems, especially when it comes to family.
Because the Asian culture emphasizes family cohesion and interdependence, family conflict is a factor in causing high levels of distress, and conflict becomes more common as one attempts to adjust to an American society. The Asian family dynamic also often exposes Asian Americans to negative parenting, and their desire to satisfy parental expectations yet rebel against this culture creates a “fractured identity” that leads to unsafe coping mechanisms such as self-harm. Family dynamic also instills a higher sense of perfectionism, which has been associated with higher concerns of parental criticism and hopelessness. In addition to these, Asian Americans are prone to perceived discrimination, a problem thought to only affect African Americans and Latinos. Perceived discrimination has been found to be associated with suicidal ideation and attempts among Asian Americans.
So, what can we do about this? Connor Maxwell and Lisa Kwon at the Center for American Progress propose four steps that lawmakers should take to increase access to mental health services for Asian Americans.
- Conduct research on disaggregated Asian Americans. All Asian Americans are not alike, but research often lumps Koreans, Japanese, Filipinos, Chinese, etc. together. Some studies of disaggregated Asians show that Korean Americans are twice as likely as Chinese Americans to experience depressive symptoms, and Japanese and Korean American men are at higher risk of suicide than other Asian American men. Separating these groups out helps us to understand the needs of this population better so we can better address them.
- Make mental health services more affordable. Many Asian Americans suffer from poverty, especially considering that the top several countries that immigrate to the US are from Asia. In 2017, one-third of Asian Americans with depression could not get care due to cost.
- Reduce language barriers and stigma toward mental health services. More than one-third of Asian Americans have limited English proficiency. Lawmakers can increase the number of interpreters in health care settings to make mental health services accessible to patients regardless of language proficiency.
- Promote cultural competency and diversity among mental health professionals. 13% of Asian Americans report experiencing discrimination at a health clinic. The lack of Asian American knowledge and representation in the mental health workforce likely contributes to the disparate environment. Having more training in cultural competency and increasing cultural diversity among mental health professionals are some steps toward making the mental health care setting friendlier to Asian Americans.
What are your thoughts about the prevalence of mental health among Asian Americans? Do you know of any Asian Americans with mental illness, or for whom you are concerned for their mental health? What other steps can we take, big or small, to increase access to mental health services for Asian Americans? Share any of your experiences or thoughts below!