Model Minority Myth and Mental Health Problems in the AA community
From the beginning, Asian Americans have defied the stereotypes that white society placed upon them. In defiance, their extraordinarily high marks of success within higher education would contribute to their fiscal and professional success that puts them ahead of their counterparts. Such defiance would eventually lead to the “Model Minority Myth.” The “Model Minority Myth” is defined as “the cultural expectation placed on Asian Americans as a group that each individual will be smart (i.e., “naturally good at math, science, and technology”), wealthy, hard-working, self-reliant, living “the American dream,” docile and submissive, obedient and uncomplaining, and spiritually enlightened and never in need of assistance,”(UTA). Along with the lack of national focus towards mental health, this myth has grown to take on a significant role influencing a mental health issue that continues to plague the Asian American community today.
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There are many different factors that can attribute to bad mental health that begin as early as childhood. Growing up, many Asian Americans including myself experienced one or many of the following stereotypes growing up. Generally, others make presumptions of our goals and career solely based on academic performance; professors and classmates assume that you “study all the time” and that you’re “doing just fine” without requiring any additional help; family members ponder over the personal choice of a major like Art or Journalism instead of a medical or STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics, Engineering) majors in comparison and contrast towards other family members such as siblings and cousins. College peers express envy or resentment towards you “probably get A’s all the time,” or that “you surely were easily admitted into a good university” due to ethnicity alone. Others being surprised when you “stand up for yourself” or any extroverted expression in contrast to the preconceived notion of being soft spoken. The feeling of inadequacy that comes with not “living up to” the image of academic excellence that others seem to expect of you” (Juon & Lee, 2008).
One would think that it is great for people to have this perception of myself and other fellow Asian Americans. However, that is not the case. Rather, it is much more detrimental than anything else. Many Asian Americans have been brought up with the perception that we need to succeed in life in order to be happy. Success meant achieving the highest marks in the highest levels of education that would incur a well-paying job to cover any sort of living expenses. Many Asian American parents have defined this as the ideal vision of success, passing down this train of thought to each succeeding generation. This idea has been found itself to become the traditional upbringing of Asian Americans, who would become influenced by other families and the community in which they have grown up in.
In reality, Asian Americans are a diverse group of people with varying life experiences. For example, Asian American college students are more likely to seek medical leave, more likely to go on academic probation, and are less likely to graduate in 4 years. Another interesting point is Asian American students were more likely than White students to report difficulties with stress, sleep, and feelings of hopelessness, yet they were less likely to seek counseling. 33% of Asian American students dropout of high school or don’t graduate on time. In 2004, 11.8% of Asian Americans lived below the poverty line, experiencing the greatest rise in poverty among all groups (UTA). Parents may present this information as a warning for their children to heed moving forward in life. The child, however, might take this idea from a different perspective. It may be perceived as pressure from their parents, which would only be magnified if they fail to achieve this idea of “success”, only earning the disapproval of their parents on the account of failure. This filial expectation of success does not stop after having to attend the most prestigious school and work for a well off job. Rather, the social aspect showcases itself in the pressure to get married and have children in order to guarantee the family line’s survival. This multifaceted problem of educational, professional, and familial pressure from not only their families but society as well forces a multitude of mental health issues upon many young Asian Americans such as anxiety and depression.
Discrimination is one of many social byproducts that has attributed towards mental health issues of Asian Americans. In a survey of 1,130 Korean American students aged 18–29, authors have reported negative mental health outcomes associated with the balance between preserving one’s Korean background and values while struggling to accommodate the more individualistic and diverse aspects of American culture that society demanded of them. There were also studies that have correlated the relationship between perceived discrimination, depressive symptoms, and substance use among Filipino Americans. Perceived discrimination was also associated with poor mental health and decreased use of mental health services amongst Chinese Americans. Today, there is a clear pattern of discrimination amongst many Asian Americans, leading to negative perceptions that affects the individual’s view of the world. Discrimination may decrease feelings of control and can impact self esteem, and/or lead to internalizing negative stereotypes (Juon & Lee, 2008).
A study was conducted by The University of Maryland School of Public Health research team in collaboration with the Center for Asian Health of Temple University, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and Asian American community leaders in Montgomery County, Maryland to analyze the psychological impact of the Model Minority Myth amongst young Asian Americans. This study was also part of the Health Needs Assessment project carried out in 2007. A convenience sampling strategy was utilized to recruit young adults from diverse Asian American communities including hard-to-reach populations. Two focus groups were formed and each group consisted of seventeen participants (five males and twelve females) from eight Asian American communities (Asian Indian, Cambodian, Chinese, Indonesian, Korean, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese) in Montgomery County, Maryland. Participants in this study were limited to young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 years old and lived in Montgomery County for more than six months (Juon & Lee, 2008).
It was during these focus groups that researchers learned that mental health was one of the most important health concerns for community participants, especially adolescents and young adults who are 1.5 or 2nd generations. The following questions were utilized as guidelines to help collect data (Masuda & Boone, 2011):
(1) whether mental health was a concern in young adults in their community.
(2) if so, what type of mental health issues were considered as problems.
(3) possible sources of stress that affect mental health.
(4) whether people with problems seek professional help.
(5) if not, what are potential barriers for receiving professional help such as counseling or treatment.
6) suggestions on possible development of prevention/education program.
After transcribing and categorizing all the topics that were brought up during the focus group discussions, the research team came to the conclusion that participants that actively participated in focus groups classified mental health as an important health concern among their peers within the community. The most common forms mentioned were stress, anxiety, and depression. Many participants also perceived that being “1.5 or 2nd generation immigrants” was a catalyst of undue stress that worsened their mental health. The biggest challenge associated with mental health was that it is often times taboo to openly discuss in many Asian cultures, and leads people to hide, neglect, or deny symptoms rather than seek help. Participants expressed that they do not often hear about mental health problems from their friends. However, they also mentioned that it is very likely that their peers do not want to show it or talk about it, even if they actually have problems. Thus, whatever they feel is not right because nobody else around them is .feeling the same as them This feeling of apathy from their peers can possibly be misinterpreted and only reinforces the idea of not seeking help.
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Mental Health is often overlooked because it is deemed as unimportant or “cannot be seen. According to “the 2005 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ‘10 Leading Causes of Death,’ among females 15–24 years old, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have the highest rate of suicide deaths (14.1%) compared to other racial/ethnic groups (White 9.3%, Black 3.3%, and Hispanic 7.4%). As for AAPI males in the same age range have the second highest rate of suicide deaths (12.7%) compared to other racial/ethnic group males in the same age range (White 17.5%, Black 6.7%, and Hispanic 10%),”(Juon & Lee, 2008).
One of the possible reasons why the numbers are such is because of the stigma concerning mental health within the Asian American community. In traditional Asian culture, it indirectly asserts that mental health problems exist because of one’s lack of mental control which in itself is considered a weakness. Therefore, it is considered shameful to reveal that one has a mental health problem. Unfortunately, this very stigma becomes a deciding factor of Asian Americans that often conceal such underlying issues and discourage the idea of seeking professional help. A study conducted by Akihiko Masuda and Matthew S. Boone was published in the International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling in 2011. The study investigates whether the mental health stigma and self-concealment are special circumstances to shape help-seeking attitudes in Asian American and European American college students who have never seeked professional psychological services (Masuda & Boone, 2011).
The results were that mental health stigma and self-concealment are special circumstances that influence help-seeking attitudes in Asian Americans. This study also shows that Asian American students who have never seeked professional psychological help had a less favorable help-seeking attitude overall. Asian Americans also displayed lower stigma tolerance and interpersonal openness in regards to seeking help, leading to greater influence by the mental health stigma and the greater likelihood of self-concealment (Masuda & Boone, 2011).
Even though the stigma can be a significant factor that contributes to the lack of mental health treatment, the study also suggests there are other underlying factors as to the lack of professional psychological treatment. One potential factor that was pointed out was the knowledge of available services, or lack thereof. It is a possibility that help-seeking attitudes were influenced by whether or not the students that participated in the study knew about the university’s counseling services or other similar services, accessibility to such services, and whether those services were affordable. However, knowledge about services does not necessarily lead to proactively seeking help (Masuda & Boone, 2011). The consequences of failing to address mental health concerns for Asian Americans harbors potential negative impacts on the society as a whole.
Depression has affected the American population as of late, regardless of age. According to Maggie Fox, who wrote a article called “Major depression on the rise among everyone, new data shows,” she states that depression is rising among Americans from all age groups, but is growing the fastest among teens and young adults. Data collected by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, two prominent health insurance companies, support the claim set forth by Fox. Although these two health insurance companies do not speak for all Americans, the data set forth does speak for a sizeable number of citizens.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield data comes from 41 million health records and counts people who were diagnosed with major depression. Many people who report symptoms of depression say they have not been diagnosed or sought treatment for it. 4.4 percent of clients were diagnosed with major depression in 2016. “Diagnosis of major depression have rose dramatically by 33 percent since 2013,” the report reads. According to the report, 2.6 percent of youths between the ages of 12 to 17 were diagnosed with major depression in 2016, a 63 percent increase from 1.6 percent in 2013. Among young adults between the ages of 18 to 34, 4.4 percent had major depression in 2016, a 47 percent increase in contrast to 3 percent in 2013. The highest percentage of major depression cases were among people aged 35 to 49. The survey found 5.8 percent of 35 to 49-year-olds had major depression in 2016, compared to 4.6 percent three years previously (Fox,2018).
If left untreated, the degradation of mental health due to stress, depression, and anxiety eventually lead to suicide. Suicide is now becoming prevalent in the Asian American community, especially amongst younger Asian Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 10 and 24, resulting in about 4,600 lives lost in the U.S. annually (Welch, 2017).
Lack of mental health treatment is not just prevalent amongst the Asian Americans, but rather is indiscriminate of age and ethnicity. Mental health is not often talked about in the Asian American community due to various reasons, with one being more influential than others. Whatever the reason may be, it should not overlooked. Mental health is a part of an individual’s well being, and such should be treated with the same amount of care. Moving forward, the Asian American community will have to do more than just simply ignore the problem. Not only are they having to fight against the stereotypes set forth by society, they have to challenge what is culturally held dear: tradition. The very same tradition that has been attributed to the Model Minority Myth, the stereotypes, their distinguished work ethic, their cultural identity. It shouldn’t be a matter of eliminating traditional as a whole, but a reimagining the stigma of mental health from a weakness of one’s own volition into one of a disease that needs to be treated. For Asian Americans that want to achieve what they perceive as “the American dream”, they have to overcome the stigma set forth by both Asian and American influences.
- Fox, Maggie. Major Depression on the Rise among Everyone, New Data Shows. 10 May 2018, ilearn.sfsu.edu/ay1819/mod/resource/view.php?id=123986.
- Juon, Sunmin Lee Hee-Soon, et al. “Model Minority at Risk: Expressed Needs of Mental Health by Asian American Young Adults.” SpringerLink, Springer, 18 Oct. 2008, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10900-008-9137-1.
- Masuda, Akihiko, and Matthew S. Boone. “Mental Health Stigma, Self-Concealment, and Help-Seeking Attitudes among Asian American and European American College Students with No Help-Seeking Experience.” SpringerLink, Springer, 21 Sept. 2011, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10447-011-9129-1.
- The University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center. “Model Minority Stereotype for Asian Americans.” Model Minority Stereotype, The University of Texas at Austin , cmhc.utexas.edu/modelminority.html.
- Welch, Ashley. “What’s behind the Rise in Youth Suicides?” CBS News, 21 Nov. 2017, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/suicide-youth-teens-whats-behind-rise/
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