Model Minority Myth and Mental Health

The model minority myth is the perception that a particular minority group can achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success in comparison to the population average. This myth is often associated with Asian Americans and unfortunately has serious ramifications, especially in the realm of mental health.

I have written in my other posts that there is a huge taboo about mental health and speaking out about mental illness in the Asian culture. Asian culture perceives mental health as something that a person should have control over, and if they have a problem, it is their fault, and they should feel ashamed. Therefore, many Asian Americans do not seek outside help and tend to rely on personal support networks such as family members, friends, and significant others.

Potential Sources of Stress for Asian American Young Adults

In the study titled, Model Minority Risk: Expressed Needs of Mental Health by Asian American Young Adults, four major themes were potential sources of stress for Asian American young adults. They were:

  1. Parental Pressure to Succeed: Generally, Asian parents expect their children to do well academically, strive for standard career paths, and to fulfill parental expectations. The model minority myth that Asians are accomplished and smart- a belief often held by non-Asian Americans, adds to this pressure.
  2. The Stress of Balancing Two Cultures and Communicating with Parents: In Asian American families, there is an expectation for young adults to respect and follow cultural norms of the home country while they grow up in American culture at school and when they are with friends. Some can balance both cultural and American values quickly, while others have difficulty.
  3. Family Obligations based on Strong Family Values: In Asian culture, when parents become old and are unable to take of themselves, there often is the assumption that daughters and sons will provide care. Also, with parents who are younger, Asian American young adults still provide care as the translator, interpreter, or driver when their parents struggle with navigating the American system due to language barriers and lack of transportation.
  4. Discrimination or isolation due to racial and cultural background: Discrimination based on ethnic and cultural backgrounds is a critical source of stress for Asian American young adults.

The Model Minority Myth and the Stresses on Asian American Young Women

The model minority myth takes an emotional toll, especially on Asian American women. According to the National Center for Health Statistics study, Asian American women have the second highest suicide rate in the country, and there is research indicating they have a growing alcoholism, drug abuse, and HIV risk problems.Furthermore, the completed suicide rate among the 15-to-25 age group of Asian American women increased by 96.3 percent from 2000 to 2009.

The Obstacles of Asian Americans to Receiving Mental Help

Here are five major issues that Asian American young adults struggle in receiving mental help.

  1. Stigma Associated with Mental Help: As I mentioned earlier, there is a negative perception of Asian American young people receiving therapy. Parents may think there is something wrong with them, or worst parents may stay in denial that their child may have a problem.
  2. Lack of Awareness of Mental Help Issues in the Community: Many Asian-Americans, especially first generation immigrants, are not aware of the importance of mental well-being. Their lack of knowledge may be due in that some mental conditions may not be recognized in their culture and that they grew up not knowing any careers related to psychological counseling.
  3. Avoid worrying their Parents with their Problems: Many young Asian American adults do not tell their parents about their emotional problems because they do not want to bother them.
  4. Lack of mental health professionals who can offer linguistically and culturally appropriate care: Many Asian Americans do not feel comfortable speaking to a mental health professional unless he or she understands their language and culture.
  5. The Cost of Mental Help: Some Asian Americans do not want to pay someone just to talk to them.

Potential Solutions to Help Asian Americans Receive Access to Mental Help

Some resolutions in decreasing the stigma towards mental health assistance in the Asian American community include:

    • Hiring more Asian American counselors on campuses because Asian American young adults may find them more relatable and understanding of their stresses.
    • Educating parents.
    • Creating a directory of Asian American mental help professionals in the community.
    • Include mental help advertisements directed towards Asian Americans.
    • Provide an online support group or forum where Asian American youth can anonymously vent their feelings and thoughts.
    • Involve school, community-based, or faith-based community groups in educating about mental health.

My Experiences

I resonate with the “model minority myth” stresses. Growing up, my parents emphasized academics, and there was a ton of pressure to do well and to go to a “name” college. I struggled with suicidal ideation and self-harm for a long time. I grew up with the stigma that having a mental illness and asking for help was for “crazy” people and not for “normal” people like me. Fortunately, my parents came around, and they allowed me to go to therapy.

In combination with therapy and maturity, I realized that the “model minority” is a myth. It’s not the hardline for all Asians to abide by and it’s not something to achieve. It’s okay to strive for the model minority standard, but there are more detriments to it than there are benefits.