Mental Health

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The Asian-American community is faced with a mental health crisis. According to recent statistics, it was found that Asian American women have the highest suicide rate among women over age 65 as well as the second highest among women 15 to 24, and that nearly one out of two Asian-Americans will have difficulty accessing mental health treatment because they cannot find services that meet their linguistic needs. Unfortunately many other barriers such as the mistrust of mental health services, cultural stigma prevent many Asian Americans from accessing mental health care when they need it, furthering the severity of these issues.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, Culture, Race and Ethnicity, published in 2001, provided a strong voice in acknowledging the strong influence of culture on the mental health beliefs and practices of ethnic minorities. The report also  provided a framework for understanding the disparities in need, access, utilization and availability of mental health services among AAPIs, highlighted below. Highlights include:

  • Low utilization of mental health services due to a number of cultural values such as avoidance of shame and stigma among AAPI subgroups and the lack of bicultural and bilingual providers;

  • High rates of distress caused by trauma associated with political and economic turmoil (e.g., Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian and Hmong refugees); and

  • Diversity in presentation and expression of psychological and psychiatric distress among AAPIs (e.g., somatization of symptoms)

  • Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death among AAPIs, compared to the ninth cause of death for white Americans. ƒ

  • Older Asian American women have the highest suicide rate of all women over age 65 in the U.S. In 2005, the suicide rate for that group was 1.6 times greater than it was in the white population. ƒ As a largely immigrant and refugee population, Asian Americans face economic and language barriers that prevent them from accessing health care and make them more vulnerable to advanced depression and other mental health disorders. Stress related to immigration and acculturation may also be a factor in developing depression. For example, suicide rates are higher for foreign-born Asian Americans than for those who are American-born.

  • Among women ages 15–24, Asian American girls have the highest suicide mortality rates across all racial/ethnic groups.

  • In addition, Asian American adolescent girls have the highest rates of depressive symptoms of all racial/ethnic and gender groups.

Mental health among AAPIs is often difficult to assess  due to the overlap of a number of factors such as the model minority myth, underrepresentation of AAPIs in epidemiological studies, mind-body conceptualization  and role of racial discrimination, to name a few. However, among all ethnicities, AAPIs tend to be the least likely to seek mental health services because of a variety of factors such as stigma, cultural impact of shame, language barriers, etc. Many studies suggest, however, that AAPIs have comparable rates of psychological distress to the general  population. Little is also known about the mental health needs of AAPI youth but studies suggest that there are higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among this group. Generational differences and conflict regarding family values and beliefs often cause additional strain,  stress and anxiety problems for AAPI youth.