Exploring the Emotional Wellness of Asians

Asians are the invisible minority due to this population’s perceived success and higher median household incomes. Stereotypes about Asians include: good at math and science, respect their elders, are quiet and reserved, and get into good colleges and respectable professions.  

How do ALL Asians effortlessly become all of the above?  They don’t!   Many Asians struggle with math, science, and career prospects, and stress, anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities pain this population at a rapidly increasing rate.

Asians are least likely to seek or receive behavioral healthcare

amongst all racial minorities. The Center of Disease Control found that rates of anxiety increased 3x and depression increased 4x in 2020 from pre-COVID 2019. But Asian communities, who faced intense racial pressure, experienced a 7x increase in depression and anxiety.


of Asian Americans struggle to access mental health treatment due to language barriers or inability to find services provided in their area.

30% more likely to consider suicide

when comparing Asian American males in grades 9-12 to non-Hispanic white male students. 

Suicide is the #1 cause of death 

among Asian/Pacific Islanders aged 15-24  in 2019

60% less likely

to have received mental health treatment compared to non-Hispanic whites 🤯 in 2018

Cultural and Generational Differences

Asian families came to the United States as immigrants, escaping war and genocide in their homeland. Many had to work below their education and professional training, performing menial jobs when they arrived in the United States while facing discrimination. Even for Asians living in Asia, the older generations suffered through WWII, famine, martial law, and colonization. Hard work and resilience are, therefore, valued throughout the community. The common societal belief is that failures are excuses for laziness and low effort since the older generations overcame such hardships. When Asian American students do not perform well, many of their parents and grandparents view it as damaging the family’s image and put the blame on the child instead of looking for ways to help them.

Guilt: Did I suffer enough to “complain”?

Many Asian parents made extremely difficult lifestyle changes to provide a better future for their families. Those from newer generations often feel their emotional distress or learning difficulties pale in comparison to the stories they’ve heard from family members. Because of this, youth struggling with emotional distress or learning challenges might fear seeming ungrateful to elders by complaining of their own “lesser” struggles. Guilt often discourages them from speaking up.

asiansmodel jpg 1 2 2

Rebellion Against the Model Minority Myth

In a TED talk featuring Olivia Lai’s ‘Asian Doesn’t Start with A+’ at TEDxPhillipsAcademyAndover, she shared that she had been conditioned to accept herself as nothing less than perfection. Like her other Asian-American friends, it was a shared experience among them to crumble under school and work pressures.

Why is it always me? My parents blame me for everything. Every inconvenience is my fault. It always comes back to me. Things completely unrelated to me are somehow shaped into my wrong doing. They make me feel like such a burden sometimes.

Stigma and shame

The teachings of Confucius and other ancient Chinese scholars are woven tightly into contemporary Asian culture and have contributed to the stigmatization of behavioral health in the region. These teachings suggest that a person’s struggles — especially those within the mind — occur because of that person’s own thoughts, actions, and associates. Again, the blame is placed on the child, who receives the discouraging message that they are not good enough and that their challenges are their own fault. Of course, it is essential to assume personal responsibility, but a child cannot be expected to parent themselves.

It’s all about “face”

These beliefs often lead many Asian parents to ignore their children’s symptoms and disregard their emotional distress and future side effects down the road. Instead, many tend to focus on high performance and achievement. Students may pour themselves into their academics or extracurricular activities to help them overlook their struggles and win their family’s approval.

The infusion of Confuciusim might have inadvertently caused Asian parents to be stingy with their praise as it is considered “boasting” almost to the point of indecency by the older generation.  This attitude creates children who struggle in vain to please and to be good enough to earn that forever elusive stamp of approval.

Many Asian students who seem to have it all get gifted-kid burnout. Gifted-kid burnout syndrome is a recently coined medical term and is the result of chronic exhaustion. It is often characterized by physical exhaustion, emotional detachment,and a lack of motivation. As a result,

many Asian children overwork themselves while striving for their family’s approval.
Are you also caught up in this cycle of using your achievement to buy love?x
However, when people get a good thing too many times, for example, a child getting perfect grades for two years, it becomes normal for them. Being ‘perfect’ becomes standard, something they should be able to achieve without trying, and that mindset affects their sense of self-esteem and self-worth. 

“Nice grades, huh? Hey, hey, aren’t I a good kid? Aren’t I a cute kid? …. I’m good, right? … Love me… Love me. Love me, so much it’s maddening.. It’s painful, it hurts. Break, break, this binding spell, okay?

From Aishite, Aishite, Aishite, by artist Kikou, featuring Golden Child syndrome
YouTube video

Lack of Awareness of Issues Affecting Emotional Wellness

In Southeast Asia, most of the population is uninformed about issues affecting one’s emotional wellness–as this is considered a taboo topic. Also, parents feel fear of judgment as there is always uncalled competition with kids from other families because of communal and societal connections. Until the ’80s, these beliefs also suggested that those with mental illnesses or learning differences were of the lowest social status. While this theory has, for the most part, faded with time, it persists for some with more traditional beliefs. It can feel shameful to admit to such obstacles.

Crushing Under the Weight of the Model Minority Myth

A common belief among the general public is that Asian Americans are all incredibly intelligent, hardworking, and law-abiding people. It’s part of what is known as the “Model Minority Myth” and is considered a “positive” stereotype. Positive or negative, it is still a harmful stereotype that impacts how people view and treat this community.  

The model minority myth makes it seem as though Asian American students do not need additional support or resources, and puts undue pressure on Asian American students. Many fear that not living up to the stereotype and parents’ expectations let down their family and the entire community.  This leads to anxiety, depressive symptoms, quick burnout, and overall health issues.

The expectations to fulfill the model minority role/stereotype become a type of implicit racism, preventing many Asian adults from seeking help for themselves and their children. Even older students — such as high school and college students — who are old enough to reach out on their own hesitate for fear of negative judgment.

Asian youths often report paralyzing fear of failure, and disappointing parents.

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