Understanding Why Asian Americans are Reluctant to Seek Treatment for Mental Health Disorders

Published on Aug 1, 2023

Overcoming cultural barriers to erase mental health stigmas is critically important for overall health among Asian Americans.

With mental health being a topic of great national interest, it’s important to shed light on how mental health disorders specifically affect Asian Americans, and why overcoming cultural barriers in identifying symptoms and seeking treatment is crucial for overall health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Asian Americans report fewer mental health concerns than do whites. However, there are many mental health issues that affect Asian Americans and require medical attention.

Consider the following from the CDC:

• Suicide death rates for Asian American females ages 65 and older are higher than they are for white females.
• Among Asian American high school students, 18.9% report considering suicide, compared to 15.5% of whites.
• Suicide death rates are 30% higher for 15-24-year-old Asian American females than they are for white females.
• As for Asian American high school students, 10.8% report having attempted suicide, versus 6.2% among whites.
• Asian American high school females are twice as likely (15%) to have attempted suicide than males (7%).

“Many Asian Americans find it difficult to access mental health services because of cultural and language barriers,” said Dr. Margaret Ting Lin, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, headquartered in Pasadena. “For some, it may even be embarrassing or shameful to talk about depression or anxiety with a doctor as such problems are culturally believed to be very private and may insinuate a lack of sound upbringing by one’s parents or a weakness of the mind. As a result, some Asian-Americans may end up suffering silently, or outright dismiss clear symptoms that require medical attention.”

According to Mental Health America, approximately 2.9 million people who consider themselves Asian American or Pacific Islander experienced a diagnosable mental illness in 2019. And, although the suicide rate for Asian Americans is half that of the non-Hispanic white population, it stated that Asian American students are more likely to attempt suicide than non-Hispanic white students.

Seek Help

Dr. Lin, who practices at Kaiser Permanente West Covina, encourages Asian Americans to overcome cultural barriers and seek treatment for mental health disorders for themselves or their loved ones.

“It’s important to remember that you are not alone,” she said. “Seeking appropriate treatment is the first critical step. Opening up to someone and talking to someone about your problems take a lot of courage, but this then opens the door for you and your loved ones to build that community of trust and support, which is so important for someone suffering from mental health issues.”

Furthermore, Dr. Lin added, “Getting the appropriate mental health support and treatment is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it empowers you to be in charge of your own mental health.”

If mental health is of concern to you, Dr. Lin offers the following tips:

• Slowly get back into doing old routines you did when you were feeling better. Ask a family member or friend to push you into taking steps to feel better. For example, get a walking friend to help motivate you to become active once again.

• Disconnect from your smart phone, tablet and computer and connect with real people. As humans, we’re biologically driven to connect with others. Just like you can’t solely live off sweets, our human interactions need to be much more than social media.

• Don’t sacrifice your enjoyment of life while you work on solving an issue of concern elsewhere.

Kaiser Permanente offers additional information on how to better understand mental health.




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