Why We Need to Discuss Mental Health Treatment for Asian-Americans
Myth: Mental health services are equally inclusive and accessible for all people, regardless of their background.
Fact: According to the American Psychological Association, Asian-Americans are three times less likely to seek help for their mental health issues than white people. This is despite the fact that over one-third of Asian-Americans report having poor mental health.
Why is there such a significant racial disparity in access to mental health care?
When it comes to discussions around the challenges of mental health and mental health treatment, Asian-Americans are often overlooked. This is a problem because Asian-Americans face a set of crucial challenges and barriers that are unique to their cultural backgrounds and upbringings, and as a result, they are discouraged from acknowledging their issues and seeking the proper treatment that they need.
The pressure to live up to the model minority myth and the pressures that come from growing up with immigrant parents are major contributors to the mental health issues that many Asian-Americans face. As a first-generation Asian American, I’ve experienced this first-hand. During high school, I placed an extraordinary amount of pressure on myself to prove to myself, my family, and society that I could live up to the ideal of the model minority; I attended the top high school in my state, I earned straight As in the most challenging classes, and I excelled in some impressive activities. But beyond the mask that I showed to everyone, I was suffering immensely and developed mental health issues. As I struggled to live up to an invisible checklist that I’d made for myself, my mental health had quickly spiraled downwards; I noticed the same for many of my peers.
However, something that discouraged me (and many other Asian-Americans) from seeking help is the intense stigmatization of mental health. The mention of the subject is considered taboo in Asian cultures, and as a result, this can cause those who are suffering from mental health issues to feel embarrassment and shame if they speak out. There is also the fear of ‘losing face’ (which refers to the image and reputation that someone has) if they acknowledge their mental health problems. Personally, I grew up with the awareness that the subject of mental health was never talked about in my family, and that also made me fearful of what would happen if I acknowledged my mental health experiences. It took me a long time to acknowledge what was happening to me, overcome the myths, fears, and shame that i’d internalized, and take the necessary steps to seek treatment.
Aside from the aforementioned reasons, the lack of diversity in mental health providers and the presence of language barriers can also prevent Asian-Americans from seeking and receiving proper care as well. When Asian-Americans seek help, they may encounter a provider without the competency to fully understand the cultural context in which their mental health problems are occurring. And if they are not fluent in English, they may encounter a provider who cannot clearly understand their problems, and they can misdiagnose them as a result.
In conclusion, Asian-Americans deserve more awareness and acknowledgement from the professional mental health community for the combination of cultural factors and barriers that they face to proper treatment.