Asian American Mental Health: Legacy and Roots

My parents were in charge of survival work and I was in charge of self-realization. The generation gap between immigrants is real. What a luxury to seek purpose, meaning and fulfillment. I came across this tweet written by user Bo Ren a few years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. It was the mentality that I had that was put into words. As an Asian American immigrant myself, I felt the pressure to succeed due to the sacrifices my parents made to provide me with the opportunities they never had, and sacrificing my health. mind in the process. Many Asian American college students share this mindset. The topic of mental health has been overlooked and brushed aside within the Asian American community. Many factors, both internal and external, allow this cycle to continue. megan go

Culture, generational trauma and mental health expectations make it difficult for Asian Americans to seek help, even when needed. Mental health tends to be a taboo subject within the community. Past generations have experienced traumatic historical events such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the EDSA Revolution, the Vietnam War, surviving poverty, and moreover, migrating to a new country. Asian parents tend to emphasize the gravity of what they have been through, or their children are aware of the sacrifices they have made. Comparing the struggles our parents went through to what our generation faces today minimizes and invalidates what our generation goes through. Our culture teaches us to remain silent and fight our own battles. “Our parents left their lives and their families behind by moving to a continent halfway around the world. They have been through so much that compared to them, I have no complaints,” that’s what we tell ourselves as we try to erase our struggles Asian families have a stereotype of weeding out any kind of disease, trying to self-medicate instead of seeing a doctor, so health mental health is at the bottom of the list.In many cases, asking for help, or even just the fact that they are struggling, is seen as a sign of weakness to ask for help, especially in the area of mental health According to a study conducted by Shadid, Weiss, Stoner and Dewsbery, Asian Americans have core values ​​that consist of collectivism (putting the needs of others before oneself), emotional self-control (the ability to control emotions), humility, family recognition through success (academic and professional) and compliance with standards. Studies show that people who embrace these values ​​are more likely to shy away from seeking help for their mental health.

In addition to stigma, general access to mental health on campus has been a barrier that most students face. Several on-campus counseling services are already tending to be severely understaffed, resulting in limited availability, and existing staff are not culturally competent to support the Asian student population. Dr. Gayle Iwamasa highlights the increased need for culturally appropriate mental health services, as specific cultural factors play a huge role in the the treatment of those mental disorders that are affected by cultural, generational and acculturation levels. As a minority, Asian students face a distinct set of stressors ranging from cultural expectations to external discrimination, especially recently with the rise in hate crimes due to the pandemic. Culturally competent counselors are essential, as there are different coping mechanisms involved with specific racial and ethnic backgrounds. It should be the responsibility of higher education institutes to train these counselors to have this experience in order to serve the student population well. University cultural centers should be utilized and create programs that raise awareness and have conversations about mental health with families, not just when students are accepted into college, but throughout their undergraduate years. The University of Connecticut (UConn) is moving in this direction. They recently hired Dr. Ron McLean as Director of Health Equity and Access to Care (HEAC). UConn’s Student Health and Wellness Department now includes a HEAC office whose goal is to promote student engagement, with a focus on marginalized populations, including the Asian population. Thus, the university aims to help students achieve their wellness and mental health goals and break down barriers related to their identity.

Mental health issues should no longer be put on the back burner. All struggles are valid, regardless of generational differences. Having conversations and normalizing mental health care within families can help reduce stigma. Increasing funding and access to mental health resources is a necessary next step, with a focus on hiring better trained staff in a culturally dismissive environment. Every student deserves adequate access to mental health resources. When we start treating mental health as a necessity and not a luxury, it opens the door to greater access for all.


Megan Go is a graduate student studying higher education and student affairs at the University of Connecticut.

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