The conversation of mental health is not evident in Asian American communities. While this may sound like an extreme generalization, there is a level of truth in this statement. For many families, mental health is a discussion topic that ends up brushed under the rug. We cannot blame our family members for the lack of dialogue, but we can attribute this to the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.
The Asian American community makes up about 5.6 percent of the nation’s population. Of the entire Asian American and Pacific Islander population, 15.1% of people aged 18 and older are diagnosed with a mental illness (SAMHSA, 2020, p. 7). The normalization of conversations with regards to mental health seems like a minuscule remedy to such a substantial and pervasive issue. But when researchers report that “Asian-Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than whites” (Nishi, 2012, para. 1), it speaks upon the need to have those “uncomfortable” conversations with our loved ones and peers. When people are unaware of the resources available to them, there is no way for them to understand the necessary steps to seek help. But, we also have to question the various factors that prevent Asian American folks from seeking the help they need. These factors include but are not limited to:
Pressures of the Model Minority Myth
The idea that a mental illness diagnosis is considered to be a weakness is a common stigma, but most prevalent in Asian American communities. As much as the model minority is a myth, there is a level of pressure and expectation that this notion places on the Asian American community. The idea of success and perfection seems to constrict terms within the community as struggles like mental illnesses are deemed infringements on possible achievements. The expectation to succeed is something that many Asian Americans have encountered as families have instilled those values at a young age. The pressure of being perfect can not only be harmful, but it places individuals in a space where their mental health is not the priority. The stigma surrounding mental illnesses, especially its perception as a weakness, prevents people from seeking the proper resources.
Fear of Placing Burden on Family Members
For many immigrant families in the Asian American community, they were raised with collectivist values. Therefore, many first-generation children often prioritize their families when making decisions, especially when dealing with an illness. The hesitation of bringing this particular topic to family members is due to the fear of placing an enormous burden on them. In addition, there is an interesting duality between how we perceive the struggles faced by our ancestors and the struggles that we encounter today. While we can ground ourselves in comparing our struggles with our ancestors, there is a level of dismissal that we place towards our own feelings. Collectivist values are ingrained within our cultural practices, and it’s difficult to break down that barrier. Perhaps it’s the duty of this generation to build spaces that are safe and inclusive within our own households.
Mental Healthcare is Inaccessible
While many health insurance companies cover mental health services, we also have to note that not everyone is insured, especially low-income families. But there are several ways one can access affordable mental health care services. This includes services based on a sliding fee scale from Federally Qualified Health Centers, which are community centers funded by the government. Furthermore, other places that offer a sliding fee scale option are university hospitals as these institutions are eager to put their students to work. An additional resource includes the nonprofit organization, Open Path Psychotherapy Collective. The organization matches underprivileged families with proper education and support (Spector, 2018). The resources mentioned previously are beneficial, yet there is still an underlying issue evident. It begs the question: why are low-income families placed in a position where they have to encounter several hurdles to receive a basic human right?
We should note that even though generations of family members have never sought mental health services, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek treatment ourselves. If you need help, please seek professional help through one of these hotlines: (Please note that this method is not suitable for everyone, take the necessary steps that are appropriate for you.)
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: HELLO to 741741
National Graduate Student Crisis Line: 1-800-472-3457
2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Asians/Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI): CBHSQ Data. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2018-nsduh-asiansnative-hawaiians-and-other-pacific
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
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