Students' Corner

Student contribution discusses the need for mental health services in the Asian community and common sources of stress that affect overall mental health.

Mental Health Among Asian-Americans

Koko Nishi, MA
Doctoral Candidate
The George Washington University

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).

FamilySimilar results were found in a study conducted by The University of Maryland School of Public Health research team in 2007, which looked at needs of mental health for Asian-American young adults from eight Asian-American communities (Asian Indian, Cambodian, Chinese, Indonesian, Korean, Taiwanese, Thai and Vietnamese). The study was part of the Health Needs Assessment project that was conducted in 2007 and looked at the various mental health concerns that were most important within the Asian-American communities in Montgomery County, Maryland. The research team held 19 focus groups with 174 participants who were between the ages of 18 and 30 years old and who identified at least as 1.5 or 2nd generation immigrants (The study identified 1.5 generation immigrants as those individuals who came to the United States before they were 16 and second generation as those individuals who were born in the United States). The results showed that participants reported several common sources of stress that affected their overall mental health:

  • Parental pressure to succeed in academics

  • Discussing mental health concerns is considered taboo in many Asian cultures and as a result Asian Americans tend to dismiss, deny or neglect their symptoms

  • Pressure to live up to the "model minority" stereotype (a view that inaccurately portrays Asian Americans as successfully integrating into mainstream culture and having overcome the challenges of racial bias)

  • Family obligations based on strong traditional and cultural values

  • Discrimination due to racial or cultural background 

  • Difficulty in balancing two different cultures and developing a bicultural sense of self

Woman thinkingAs was found by Spencer and colleagues (2010), this study found that most young Asian-Americans tend to seek out support from personal networks such as close friends, family members and religious community members rather than seek professional help for their mental health concerns. Participants in the study stated that the biggest deterrent in seeking professional help is the negative stigma surrounding mental health issues, in addition to lack of awareness of the resources and services available to them. The study also found that most Asian Americans have difficulty accessing mental health services because of the language barrier. The results suggest a need for more bilingual services and more collaboration between formal service systems and community resources (Lee et al., 2009). 


  • Lee, S., Juon, H., Martinez, G., Hsu, C., Robinson, S., Bawa, J.,Ma, G. (2009). Journal of Community Health: The Publication for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, 34(2), 144-152.

  • Spencer, M., Chen, J., Gee, G., Fabian, C., Takeuchi, D. (2010). "Discrimination and Mental Health-Related Service Use in a National Study of Asian Americans." American Journal of Public Health, 100(12), 2410-2417.