Asian Americans are often stereotyped to be studious, hardworking, and intelligent. However, this gross misrepresentation often glosses over one of the most obscure yet important issues — their mental health. Due to values ingrained into many Asian cultures, Asian Americans’ mental health is often poor compared to other ethnic groups.
For example, according to a CDC study conducted in 2010, 18.9 percent of Asian American high school students have reported considering suicide versus 15.2 percent of whites, and 10.8 percent of Asian American high school students report having attempted suicide versus 6.2 percent of whites. This same study found that suicide death rates are 30 percent higher for 15 to 24-year-old Asian American females than they are for white females.
The discrepancy between these statistics can be linked to cultural values instilled in many Asian Americans, according to Dr. David Takeuchi, Professor of Sociology and Co-Founding Director of the Research and Innovations in Social, Economic, and Environmental Equity at Boston College. “For Asian Americans, it isn’t just objective social status, but their perception of their social status in society-those who see it as low have higher rates of disorders,” said Takeuchi. Factors like income, grades, profession and more all contribute to this perception of social status.
For an anonymous West Ranch student, perceived social status definitely contributes to their anxiety and depression. “I feel like the main cause of my depression is me striving to be my best. Whether it’s my grades or my personality, my anxiety freaks me out,” they said. “Amongst Asian Americans it’s really competitive when it comes to grades. I know that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a competition but inside of my head it feels like it is and when i fall behind my friends in my classes it’s so self deprecating.”
However, for others, the main factor behind their stress is their parents.
“My parents definitely contribute to my anxiety in every aspect of my life. Although they do try to motivate me it can also be very stressful to have their pressure on my shoulders, on top of the pressure put onto myself. Their encouragement sometimes feels like a burden.” said another anonymous West Ranch student. “In Korean culture, people judge each other by how successful they and their kids are, so parents tend to put a lot of pressure on their kids.”
Many have heard about the infamous book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom,” a memoir written by Amy Chua. It details the grueling routine of how she parented her children, but more importantly, it shines light on the normalization of abuse in Asian culture. Corporal punishment has been outlawed in 51 countries, however, none of these countries fall in southeast Asia. While rates of abuse are actually lowest among all ethnic groups, Dr. of psychology Anna Lau speculates that many cases go unreported because abuse is so normalized. With concepts of strict, harsh parenting to raise a child, such as “dama jiaoyu” in China, ingrained in many Asian cultures, it is no wonder that both physical and emotional abuse have become commonplace.
“Abuse has definitely been normalized in the Asian American community,” said an anonymous West Ranch student, “I feel like it’s not a good way of teaching right from wrong or disciplining a child; instead of teaching them it just instills fear into them.”
Despite the many risk factors for depression and anxiety in Asian Americans, they remain the race that seeks mental health services the least. In fact, only 4.9 percent of Asian American adults use mental health services, the lowest rate among all ethnicities. Compare that number to the 16.6 percent of white adults that use these same services.
Because of the heavy stigmatization around mental health in Asia, many do not seek to get treatment or even diagnosis for their mental health problems. For example, South Korea has one of the lowest clinically diagnosed depression rates despite having the second highest suicide rates in the world. As Amy Chua, author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” puts it, “There are all kinds of psychological disorders in the West that don’t exist in Asia.”
Additionally, with the amount of extra AP/Honors classes and extracurriculars like the piano and violin lessons that many Asian Americans are pressured to take by parents, most simply do not have the time to focus on their mental health.
“At the moment I’m not doing anything in regards of helping my depression but I used to take therapy. For me personally I don’t think my depression is severe enough and also I don’t really have the time to go to therapy,” said one West Ranch Student.
Asian Americans are one of the least researched ethnic groups concerning mental health and this article only reaches the tip of the iceberg on this issue. But for any change to actually happen, students need to be more educated about mental health in general.
“I feel like everyday at school I hear the words ‘I want to die’ or ‘I’m going to kill myself’ multiple times but they can’t all be sincere can they? I feel like people say they have depression without fully acknowledging what it really is because, for those who do suffer from depression or anxiety it honestly kind of invalidates them and can cause their depression to get worse,” said Anonymous. “I think depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders should be taught about and more understood by students so that they realize a mental disorder can be just as damaging as a physical one.”