The Asian American population is the fastest-growing ethnic or racial grouping in the U.S. In 2019, over 19 million people living in the United States identified as Asian American or Pacific Islander, representing 6.1% of the total U.S. population. Of these, roughly 15% report having a mental illness in the past year, meaning more than 2.9 million Asian Americans experienced mental illness in 2019. This number has increased due to the current hate crimes against Asian Americans. By some estimates, Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek treatment or help than other racial groups in the U.S., making them the least likely racial group in the U.S. to seek mental health services. This can be due to a number of factors such as cultural norms, socioeconomic status, and more.
The APA states stigma can play an important role in someone’s likelihood to access care willingly. Specifically, the stigma associated with disability is the largest barrier to Asian Americans accessing mental healthcare. Based on traditional cultural values, shame related to mental health is a cultural norm in many Asian American communities. Many Asian Americans also have strong family obligations that identify someone’s self-value with their ability to care for their family and community. These notions encourage the idea that people with mental illness, who may not live up to these stereotypes, obligations, and values, are failures, valueless, or have no identity or purpose. These negative ideas can also discourage people from seeking treatment to avoid shaming themselves, their family, or their community. Getting outside help may also conflict with the Asian American cultural value of interdependence, which stresses that family or community can meet all a person’s needs. This value perpetuates the idea that people should not seek professional help when relying on their family or community.
A lack of mental health awareness, coupled with negative stereotypes, may cause Asian Americans to overlook, reject, deny, or ignore mental health symptoms. They may also be more likely to assume mental illness is related to poor parenting or a genetic flaw passed down from parents. This can discourage people with mental illness, or their families, from seeking outside help to avoid being labeled as defective or damaged. Additionally, many healthcare professionals do not have the specialist training to accommodate or address different cultural needs, experiences, and values. Many claim Asian Americans also have the most trouble accessing mental healthcare due to language barriers of all ethnic and racial groups living in the U.S. Because fewer Asian Americans seek mental healthcare than other groups, those who do may find themselves in settings without people of their race or ethnicity to whom they can relate. These factors may make it seem like mental healthcare services are not meant for Asian Americans. It’s a perpetual cycle that needs to be broken.
This topic is extremely relevant in today’s social climate. With hate crimes drastically increasing every day, a deep sense of fear and isolation has been rooted in every Asian American community. If the pandemic wasn’t enough to trigger mental health episodes, there is now a new reason. This is the time for anyone who needs guidance to seek a mental health professional. Let’s end this stigma of seeking help as a weakness and develop the tools needed to address these issues.
OMH, 2019. Mental and behavioral health: Asian americans. Retrieved from https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=54