Mental Health in Asian Culture

Some point in everyone’s life they will experience the feeling of being overwhelmed which is that uneasy feeling of discomfort and dread. This distress is defined as anxiety and is categorized as a mental disorder. With the preconceived notions and stigma against mental health, some individuals do not know how to cope and never get help. Furthermore, mental illness can be crippling in taking away an individual’s job, friends, and quality of life. Specifically, Asian American culture and mental health will be analyzed in order to have a better understanding of certain stigma’s that create a barrier for those Asian American individuals in seeking treatment for mental health.

To have a better understanding of mental health the Mayo Clinic defines it as “Mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function. Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior.

” Therefore, mental health concerns affect adults and children. Most common mental disorder is ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Mental health is a very important topic but in Asian American culture this topic is overlooked. Not seeking professional help because Asian cultural norms suggest there is a stigma, shame, and fear against it. Factors that prevent an individual from seeking help include language, acculturation, and religious/traditional beliefs.

To access the best health care in the United States an important factor includes the knowledge of English. According to the US National Library of Medicine “Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States.

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They are also one of the most diverse, including at least 43 different ethnic groups who speak more than 100 languages and dialects.” As a result, members of the older generations are benefiting from this because the children are expected to learn and embrace the new language in order to interpret to their parents. While this sounds like a grand idea this puts a great amount of pressure which causes conflict between generations. Communicating within Asian culture has many barriers of not being very expressive which shows that there is a connection between not seeking mental health help because an individual might not know how to express themselves. Drawing a parallel to the fact that finding and accessing these services that meet the language needs for certain Asian groups are not being met.

Balancing two different cultures is very difficult because having to respect values from an individual home country as well as the environment around them while growing up in an American society. Children that have immigrant parents are often expected to be successful in their education as well as future career. By doing this it shows respect to the parent’s experience of leaving their country to provide a better life for them. American Psychological Association states “Asian Americans have lower rates of mental illness than whites but are less likely to seek help or treatment for their emotional or mental health problems than Whites.” Therefore, the different stresses that an individual might endure, an immigrant parent would not be able to understand or see it has not an issue. Furthermore, many things seem to be considered a private within Asian culture. This shines a negative spotlight on the role of being independent which creates a sense of being sworn to secrecy and in return expressing themselves is not an easy task. An excerpt from Contemporary Asian America states “War traumatized immigrant parents or grandparents were reluctant to share wartime memories with their children and grandchildren for fear of hurting their children’s chances of social integration” (Zhou 114). As a result, immigrant parents having their children go through a smooth experience of acculturation into American society will help regain the social status of the parents or grandparents.

An article by psychologist Ben Tran says, “This particular behavior has a name: “hiding up.” Hiding up is the act of both keeping your mental illness hidden from the community and not doing anything to treat the illness itself.” This is clearly a dangerous combination. Asian cultural norms suggest there is a stigma, shame, and fear against it. Also, the concern about the loss of face may be expressed through complaints. Ultimately, this is associated with preventing individuals from getting care and resulting in delayed treatment. Often seen in many Asian families there is an underlying pressure to take care of your parents when they get older. Even before they get old the little things of translating mail, paying the bills, and helping family members gets very tedious. By doing this an individual is trying the hardest to be on top of everything except themselves. This conflict with cultural stress can increase an individual’s risk for experiencing mental health problems.

Religions and what they all have in common are that those who worship have a firm belief in a higher power. Asians predominantly practice Buddhism which ties back to traditional beliefs and behaviors relating to mental health. There are many religions that have their own interpretations of mental illness. The National Center for Biotechnology Information shows a table with cultural backgrounds from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese stating very similar beliefs throughout all backgrounds. Examples included coping behaviors and treatments such as deny, delay, or avoid seeking professional help. Trying traditional herbs, remedies, and spiritual consultations. Also, the table showed consistent beliefs throughout the various Asian cultures of believing that mental illness is caused by evil spirits or disruption of harmony. Drawing a parallel to the fact that this kind of influence put on young Asian American youth will follow them into their adulthood.

As a result, these traditional beliefs within religion can discourage and cause an individual to ignore distress expressed through the body and mind. In the reading Contemporary Asian America, it mentions “As a reactive strategy to resist discrimination, Asian immigrants retreated into their own ethnic communities that resembled those found in the homeland and relying on one another for moral and practical supports” (Zhou 114). As a result, Asian Americans are turning to their friends or acquaintances as their network for support instead of medical professionals. This also brings up another point that these traditional beliefs reinforce racial stereotypes that target Asians. For example, there is often a preconceived notion that Asians are shy, very studious, and do not speak English. Knowing that an individual has a mental illness but does not want to speak up is them playing into to discrimination that happens every day.

Occupation is an overall factor that hinders many from seeking help because of time constraint. In the reading Contemporary Asian America, it states that “Overall, Asian immigrant groups fill the most economically desirable niches. Hispanics the least desirable” . Therefore, this is reinforcing the model minority myth within ethnic groups. For example, how Hispanics work in cleaning and home care, Filipinos in nursing, and Koreans in the grocery business. From the outside looking in, you can compare their success on a scale and it seems like Asians are the model minority; but these jobs involve long hours, unhealthy work conditions, and are physically demanding. This shows that, there is not the time to think about mental health because working overtime and earning more money is how an individual is supporting their family. In class, a student said “Asians always have luxury cars, the newest phones, and clothing. How does that relate back to their jobs with not being a minority for other ethnic groups?” Employees working at a nail salon, garment factory, line cook, or dishwasher do not much make much money. Many have to accept these low earning jobs making minimum wage or less because of language or being undocumented. Some Asian cultures are all about showing off what you have even if you can’t afford that kind of lifestyle.

This is why many people from the outside assume Asians don’t have it hard at all but in reality, they do. Overall, children with immigrant parents had their own struggles of not being able to express those feelings; they had to suppress them. The stigma against mental health within the Asian culture is very prevalent. The pressure to not showcase that an individual does not have any problems in their lives can be very dangerous. This kind of humiliation can lead to suicide. It is very easy to put the blame on Asian immigrant parents but there is no need for that. If anything, showing compassion and understanding where they came from, how they were raised, and what they endured in life can help start the change of mental health stigma in Asian culture.

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Mental Health in Asian Culture. (2022, Feb 09). Retrieved from

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