Why So Few Asian Americans Seek Therapy & How That's Changing Now

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While an estimated one in five Americans experiences a mental health issue every year, not every demographic seeks help at the same rate. [1] The thought of approaching therapy is an intimidating one for many, but for others, it’s more than just daunting – it’s entirely taboo.

Such is the case with many in the Asian-American community. Researchers have found that Asian Americans are three times less likely than their white peers to seek any type of mental health care services or resources. [2]

In light of these disproportionate numbers, we asked three therapists from the greater Asian-American community to share their insight into why so few Asian Americans seek therapy – and leave a hopeful note for how individuals from up-and-coming generations are working to shift that mentality.

Why fewer Asian Americans seek mental health care  

Stigma against mental health conditions – compounded by family stressors

Much of the communal hesitation regarding mental health care appears driven by internalized stigma.

For example:

Additionally, misunderstanding the complexities of mental health disorders is a major stressor for many, says Shama Goklani, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in NYC.

This is especially prevalent for young people with immigrant parents, she adds, as they may come from backgrounds with less emphasis on mental health. Children may feel unable to raise their mental health concerns, which helps cement the stigma even further.

Seeking outside help isn't intuitive for Asian-American families

“Talking with a therapist as a helpful tool may not make intuitive sense to many Asian families," says Calla Jo, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in NYC. Oftentimes, families are suspicious of seeking outside help. They may prefer to turn to religious leaders, defer to their immediate family, or not to speak out at all.

“What needs to be understood is that psychoanalysts and therapists in general take confidentiality seriously," she adds. Some may not realize that in therapy sessions, privacy is a client right. Clients do not have to disclose that they're receiving help at all, let alone the condition that incentivized them to seek care.

Related: Opinion: One therapist’s perspectives on Asian American mental health

Asian Americans often feel pressure to uphold the "model minority"

For many, it can seem like seeking help is admitting weakness – and therefore, falling short of the model minority myth. This myth, which assumes all Asian Americans are capable of innate success, is impossible for anyone to live up to.

Not to mention, it comes with an overwhelming side of unrelenting pressure – from family members, teachers, peers, and more often than not, from one's own self – to perform up to expectations at all times.

Ironically, this pressure can compound and contribute to the need for further help. Jo notes that daily micro-aggressions – such as those that perpetuate the model minority myth –  can lead to unidentified trauma.

Jo adds that because these micro-aggressions and racist attitudes are generally less violent than more overt forms of discrimination, they tend to result in a sense that the mental health effects deserve less attention.

How young Asian Americans are standing up to stigma – and seeking mental health care    

Despite existing stigma, young Asian Americans are increasingly breaking barriers around understanding mental health.

Young people are deciding to prioritize their mental health  

“While stigma around mental health continues to exist in the Asian and Asian-American communities, there are more and more young people who are seeking therapy and support after a lifetime of prioritizing other aspects in their lives,” says Kamille Stine, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in NYC.

In response to these increasing numbers of Asian American patients, therapists like Stine strive to acknowledge the “cultural nuances and family history” that underlie their experiences.

This helps clients feel safe and understood – which is crucial, as they’re often first-timers to therapy.

More Asian-American professionals are entering the mental health field

From 2005 to 2013, the percentage of Asian-American individuals in the psychology workforce grew from 2.4 percent to 4.3 percent (an increase of 79.5 percent).

Find Asian-American therapists near you

Stigma is a powerful deterrent. Speaking with someone who understands any applicable cultural nuances when working with you, as well as broader mental health concerns, can be the first step in getting help.

You may prefer to work with a therapist who shares your identity. While it can be difficult to find Asian and Asian-American therapists in certain pockets of the country, as mentioned above, more Asian American professionals are entering the mental health field – meaning more opportunities to connect with the right professional for you.

Start your search on Zencare. Browse by insurance and cost, watch intro vides, and schedule free calls to find a therapist you click with. The right help is out there!

Sources:
[1] http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers
[2] https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/asian-american/article-mental-health.aspx
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568160/