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Asians Have Mental Illnesses Too

By: Phoebe Lo, LPC

As Asians continue to live out the “model minority” myth, where they are commonly seen as the most successful individuals academically, financially, and physically among all the other minorities. What they have not realized is that they have long suffered the depletion of their mental health. In 2017, 2.9 million people who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander (AA/PI) have reported having mental illnesses (SAMHSA, 2018). With the rise of racial tension and prejudices against the AA/PI community due to COVID-19, the emotional turmoil felt by many has uncovered past hurt and trauma that led to the worsening of mental health. According to the CDC, “suicide was the leading cause of death for Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, ages 15 to 24, in 2019.” However, there is a scarcity of discussion, acknowledgment, and awareness to the severity and widespread of mental health illnesses among the AA/PI community due to the lack in research and education, culturally appropriate resources, and support from friends and family.

Lack of Research and Education

When it comes to Asians and mental health, many professionals in the field do not have enough information on how to provide the best care to their patients who identify as AA/PI. There is a lack of research done to identify the impact of mental health and the use of psychotropic medications among Asian Americans. This makes it challenging for AA/PI to understand how their mental health could be prevalent or relevant in their lives and their community. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), studies that were found had very small samples that do not accurately represent the majority of Asian American and their mental health struggles. Aside from the lack of research available to understand the impact or effects of mental illnesses, many Asians have not been educated on the subject of mental health. Many assume that mental illnesses come from having a “weak” state of mind, a physical illness that could be cured by traditional medicine, genetic flaw, and a sin or divine punishment. In addition to that, mental illnesses seem to be only applicable to people who are “crazy” and that they would need to be locked up in the basement of a hospital. Research has shown that having the consistency of regular outpatient counseling sessions could greatly benefit the overall mental state of many.

Lack of Culturally Appropriate Resources

Although there is a huge influx of Asian immigrants to the United States since the 1965 Immigration Act, there is still a lack of AA/PI professionals in the mental health field. Most Asians in United States are either first or second generation born citizens, which makes adjustment to the majority culture and language a challenge to many AA/PI. One of the many barriers to treatment for AA/PI is that they have not been able to find professionals who are of the same culture and ethnicity. In a study done by Sue et al. (1991), Asian American clients who are matched with Asian American therapists are more likely to discharge from treatment successfully than those who are matched with therapists of other ethnicities. AA/PI clients are also looking for professionals who can speak their first language or native tongue as they feel more heard and understood about their cultural needs. NAMI found that for every 100,000 AA/PI in America, there are approximately 70 AA/PI providers available. The lack in culturally appropriate resources or help has shun away many AA/PI from getting the mental health help that they need.

Lack of Support from Friends and Family

Dignity, honor, and prestige are words that have been ingrained to the minds of Asian children by their parents, as individuals in the Asian household bear the name of their whole family. In this collective community, anything that an individual does is a reflection on their parents and family. The expectations of being part of the household far exceed personal gains and interests most of the time and individuals in the AA/PI community have the responsibilities to maintain the expectations that have been taught to them throughout their lives. The “save-face” mentality, which simply means do not bring shame to your family through your actions, plays a huge part in how Asians approach mental health. Saving face means politeness, considerate of others, and bringing honor to the family. Many AA/PI families consider mental illnesses as bringing shame to them as a whole. This makes it difficult for AA/PI individuals to fully express their emotions and or disclose anything about themselves. In order to maintain the relationships with friends and family and avoid any embarrassments, individuals would rather struggle with their mental illnesses than seeking help from professionals.


The AA/PI community has long suffered with mental illnesses but due to the lack of understanding of mental health, resources, and support from loved ones, it has been a challenge for the community to reach out for professional help. By understanding the barriers and inhibitions that AA/PI individuals face, we could all advocate and fight for our brothers and sisters in the community who have been struggling silently. If you identify yourself as part of the AA/PI, here are some mental health resources that are available: Podcasts (Selling the Couch, East Side Remedy, Erasing Shame, Asian Lifting) Articles and Directory (Psychology Today, Asian Mental Health Collective, NAAPIMHA, NAMI) Instagram accounts (@asianmentalhealthcollective, @asianmentalhealthproject, @asiansformentalhealth, @seektospeak, @mindset_dive, @eastsideremedy)


Huizen, J. (n.d.). Asian american mental health: Stigma, culture, and more. Medical News Today. Mental Health America. (n.d.). Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities and Mental Health. Retrieved June 21, 2021, from NAMI Multicultural & International Outreach Center. (2003, June). Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities (AA/PIs) Mental Health Facts. NAMI. Office of the Surgeon General (US); Center for Mental Health Services (US); National Institute of Mental Health (US). Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity: A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2001 Aug. Chapter 5 Mental Health Care for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Available from: Tao, L. (2017). Face Perception in Chinese and Japanese. Intercultural Communication Studies XXVI: 1 (2017), XXVI(1).