Underneath It All: Asian-Americans & Mental Illness

by / 2 Comments / 456 View / October 10, 2014

Not many people are able to discuss mental illness comfortably. And despite mental illness most certainly being taboo, it is much more taboo in Asian-American communities. 

In terms of how Asian-Americans are portrayed in America, the stereotypes are narrow. The most popular one is the “model minority” character that is highly enjoyed by the average audience. Some traits of this archetype include passivity, a stoic composure, or just plain bizarre behavior. 

This often manifests itself in popular culture.  In the movie Pitch Perfect, Liky Onakuramara is almost completely silent, and is the only meek Asian female in the group. With images like this telling Asian people how they should be behaviorally, it is expected that so many are people confused about how they should act. 

With that in mind, it makes sense that mental illness within the Asian community is a complex issue. A first layer that can be addressed is that compared to the average white American, those in the AA Community consider mental illness to have a higher stigma. Mental illness within the AA Community has even been scoffed at as a “White Person’s Problem.” 

Some ethnicities that can especially struggle with mental health are Southeast Asians, such as Cambodians, because Southeast Asia has a brutal history of imperialism and war. Many first generation Asian Americans have been told that their mental illness is nothing compared to the horrors their immigrant families have gone through.

Also, though many Asians in America are viewed to be extremely prosperous, there are still many who are financially struggling.  This makes obtaining healthcare difficult, meaning treatment is most likely not an option. Asian Americans have even been subjected to racism and discrimination regarding their mental conditions. Some doctors may downplay or even all together disregard a patient’s conditions simply because of their race and/or ethnicity.

Additionally, because of cultural significance of family and keeping family affairs private, many Asians may be extremely uncomfortable coming forward with their problems to strangers and those who may not necessarily relate to them. 

With the double standards that are placed on Asian Americans in both of their communities, mental health is overwhelmingly seen in a negative light.

There are a multitude of reasons why one may be uncomfortable revealing their mental illness. But for Asian Americans, there are multiple things the average American does not necessarily experience or understand that make mental illness and even stickier discussion piece. Racism, internalized stereotypes, and the belief from elders that “mental illness isn’t so bad”  are all key factors to why the Asian American community has failed to wholeheartedly embrace the movement to de-stigmatize mental illness.

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  • Fiora

    Mental illness is also seen in a negative light for every race, just with different connotations tbh

  • Noam

    I don’t think any group of people, white or asian or black could ever come to fully de-stigmatize mental illness, but this article is a good start at opening a dialogue! great!