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  • Smayan Ranjan, Ojaswin Kolhatkar

East Asian Individuals and Mental Health Issues

Statistics about Mental Health in Asian Individuals

Recent data collected from the National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS) found that Asian Americans have a 17.30 percent overall lifetime rate of any psychiatric disorder and a 9.19 percent 12-month rate, yet Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than Whites. According to a study conducted by Abe-Kim et al., only 8.6 percent of Asian-Americans sought any type of mental health services or resource compared to nearly 18 percent of the general population nationwide (Spencer et al., 2010). These numbers vary drastically from the numbers of the western world leading us to one conclusion: The decreased rate at which Asian Americans seek mental health services has been the main contributor to why this pertinent issue is not addressed on mainstream platforms.


Cultural Differences between Asian and Western households

Some reasons why Asian individuals may experience mental health issues is because of their heritage. According to the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, 42% of Vietnamese American, 41% of Korean American, and 40% of Chinese American households are "linguistically isolated.” This designation means that the majority of people in the household aged 14 years or older speaks English “very well.” This can cause many children to have an identity crisis due to them having to switch between languages (and therefore, cultures) while going from school to their home and vice versa. This can put strain on one’s self image and their understanding of the cultures they are a part of which can eventually lead to depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric illnesses. But how do Asian Americans deal with their mental health issues? Unfortunately, they rarely do. As shown in the statistics, Asians are 3 times less likely to seek professional help to aid in their mental health. This is greatly due to the traditional nature of Asian families. Asians place great value on the family as a unit. Each individual has a clearly defined role and position in the family hierarchy and is expected to function within that role, submitting to the larger needs of the family. With a mindset of placing the overall family’s needs before your own, it can seem selfish to an individual to take care of themselves. Because Asian Americans cannot have mental issues in the eyes of their relatives, Asian patients are likely to express their psychological distress in physical complaints such as headaches.


Personal experiences of mental health struggle


Asians have been immigrating to America for centuries, but as they have been immigrating, their culture is being lost. A main reason for this is the disclusion of Asians in American communities and the need to assimilate. A prime example of this is dictated in the research paper Asian Culture Dilution in the United States by Ojaswin Kolhatkar, where he details the story of Jason “Ji-Seung” Han. At a young age, Jason moved to America from Korea. A border officer asked him his name, to which he responded with “Ji-seung”. The border officer either misheard him, or did not think that Ji-seung was his real name since he exclaimed in a tone of realization “oh your name is Jason”. The young boy did not want to stand out so he said yes, but he regretted this later. This is not isolated however. I have even seen my friends become distant from the cultural roots. Usually, conversations between these friends and I would feel more like family, but now, we speak English and their understanding of our Indian culture has decreased. I keep wondering why this occurs, but I realized it is most likely due to pressure from others. In American schools, multicultural education is absent, so people see only traditional American and more so white culture in schools. To blend in, they take this culture and implement it into every aspect of their lives. They end up feeling sad when they are unable to understand our traditional language or able to read our religious scripts, resulting in their parents believing it is their fault. It is not their fault but a fault of the system that does not cater to the needs of multicultural youth, especially Asian youth, resulting in mental health struggles. It is important to understand these struggles and foster a community that embraces Asian culture so that children can enjoy both Asian culture and traditional American culture.


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