Why Asian Americans are Not Going to Therapy

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the vibrant tapestry of cultures, traditions, and histories across AAPI communities. From the bustling energy of Vietnamese coffee shops in San Francisco to the joyful sounds of lion dances at Chinese New Year celebrations in New York City, AAPI communities have become an integral part of the American experience. 

Chicago, with its rich history of immigration, is no exception. Filipino American bakeries fill the air with the aroma of pandesal, while Korean BBQ restaurants offer sizzling bulgogi. Yet, amidst the celebration, there's a crucial conversation to be had about mental health within AAPI communities. In this blog, we'll explore some of the cultural factors contributing to this stigma and offer small steps toward overcoming it.

The history of AAPI Mental Health Awareness Month

Asian American and Pacific Islander Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 2010, and is creating conversations around AAPI mental health. Initially established to raise awareness about unique mental health challenges faced by AAPI communities, it’s also a key opportunity to promote culturally sensitive approaches to mental health care. In the 14 years since its inception, AAPI Mental Health Awareness Month has grown into a movement aimed at destigmatizing mental illness and encouraging AAPI individuals to seek the support they need.

Why do we need Asian American mental health support and education?

Statistics show that Asian Americans are significantly less likely to seek help for mental health concerns compared to other demographics. This disparity can be attributed to a complex web of cultural stigmas that have persisted for generations. Understanding these stigmas is the first step towards dismantling them and creating a more supportive environment for mental well-being.

How does cultural stigma and the model minority myth impact mental health?

One of the most pervasive stigmas is the myth of the "model minority." This stereotype portrays Asian Americans as high achievers who are universally successful, resilient, and unemotional. While the model minority myth may seem complimentary on the surface, it creates immense pressure to conform to unrealistic expectations. It can be incredibly difficult to seek support for your mental health when the community and cultural expectations you were raised within make you feel like you should be impervious to weakness.

This is only amplified by the emphasis on stoicism and self-reliance featured in many AAPI cultures. When seeking help for mental health concerns can be seen as a sign of weakness or failure, people often choose to suffer instead of risking shame or failure in the eyes of the self or their family. 

Taking a small step forward to embrace support for Asian American mental health 

Here's a simple yet powerful way to challenge the model minority myth: reframe your internal narrative. Many Asian American families hold onto the values of hard work and perseverance. Can you redefine these values to include self-care and seeking help when needed? Perhaps a new internal narrative could be, "True strength lies in knowing when to ask for support."

More tools to rewrite the narrative this AAPI Mental Health Month

  1. Normalize the Conversation: Challenge the stigma by starting conversations about mental health within your social circles. Simply sharing your own experiences or expressing support for others can help to break down barriers and create a more open and accepting environment.
  2. Educate Yourself: Whether you’re a part of AAPI communities or you just want to educate yourself, take the time to learn about the cultural factors that contribute to mental health stigma in AAPI communities. Understanding the context in which these beliefs and attitudes develop can help you to approach the topic with greater sensitivity and empathy.
  3. Lead by Example: Show compassion and understanding towards those who may be struggling with mental health issues. By demonstrating acceptance and support, you can help to create a culture where seeking help for mental illness is seen as a sign of strength rather than weakness.
  4. Seek Culturally Competent Care: If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, seek out a therapist who is culturally competent and sensitive to the unique experiences of AAPI individuals. A therapist who understands your cultural background and values can provide more effective support.

These steps might feel small (or overwhelmingly huge, if they’re against everything you’ve known). We can work together to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health in AAPI communities and create a more supportive and inclusive environment for all.

Meet Maribeth Germino: A therapist specializing in Trauma, Identity, BIPOC Issues, Couples

Maribeth Germino is a dedicated therapist specializing in trauma, identity, BIPOC issues, and couples therapy. With a deep understanding of the cultural nuances that shape her clients' experiences, Maribeth provides counseling in Chicago that is compassionate and effective in supporting individuals and couples seeking healing and growth. 

Pure Health Center is here for you- and these resources are too!

It's important to remember that seeking help for mental health is a sign of strength, not weakness. Just as we take care of our physical health through regular check-ups, taking care of our mental health is equally important.

Here are some additional resources for AAPI communities in Chicago:

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