The Need For Culturally Responsive Mental Health Outreach

Higher mental health problems among certain cultural or ethnic groups (almost always minorities) is tragically common. Most recently, a study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) finds that Asian American teen girls have a higher rate of depression than any other group based on race, gender, or ethnicity. If these girls do not get the help they need through therapy and counseling, their problems only worsen. In fact, the NAMI study also found that Asian American women between ages 15 and 24 have a higher rate of suicide than any other racial or ethnic group. And as these girls age, their problems stay with them: of all women over age 65, Asian American women have the highest suicide rate.

Although they are the leading group, it’s not just women who are affected by mental health problems within the Asian American community. In the white population, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death. Among Asian Americans, suicide ranks fifth. There is no single cause behind these trends, and it’s certainly not indicative of any group’s greater tendency to have mental health problems. But cultural context and traditions can go a very long way in determining whether the seeds of depression take root.

Discrimination is one factor that has been frequently linked with depression among minority communities. Discrimination comes in both aggressive forms (taunting, threats, job discrimination, public aggression, etc.) and more subtle forms (lack of access to language-specific forms and professionals). Both can contribute to an environment of isolation and “other”-ness. Once a problem like depression becomes apparent, it’s important to seek treatment, to find a psychotherapist, and this is the second barrier that often faces minorities. Some cultures traditionally view mental health needs as a source of shame, making it difficult for those in need to ask for help. In other cases, mental health services are difficult for those in need to access based on cultural and other factors. The NAMI report recommends culturally-tuned outreach, linguistically- and culturally-responsive mental health care workforce, and recognition of cultural influences that may discourage individuals from seeking treatment.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • MySahana


    February 25th, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    Great article! We could not agree with this article more. We are a nonprofit dedicated to reaching out to the South Asian community (a subset of Asians with some cultural similarities and many differences) to reduce stigma and provide awareness about what mental health is and how to identify symptoms. It was started by our Founder who realized during her clinical internships that South Asians do not receive mental health services because 1) they are misinformed about what mental health is and 2) because the mental health community knows little about the South Asian culture to be able to effectively reach them. We hope the outreach we do through our organization will help educate South Asians and ultimately encourage them to seek help.



    February 25th, 2011 at 7:28 PM

    I’m pretty sure this trend is more prevalent in the first generation of immigrants than the successive generations. I say this because I know it’s not easy to immigrate and live in a foreign land after you have gotten used to everything in your home country. Also,you are less connected to your new country and this brings an invisible barrier between you and a counselor.

  • shamini


    February 26th, 2011 at 6:09 AM

    It is very important to try to be intune with any culture and their own idisyncrosies when you are creating a program to work within that community. For many there are so many cultural nuances that are different from amybe our own and these are the things that would really prohibit them from asking for help when they needed it. The more in tune that we are with these types of variations in society the more responsive we can be to their needs and the things that will be more sure to help them during treatment.

  • cathy


    February 26th, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    although we are moving towards a world that is more local than different,there still are so many differences between different cultures across the world.this is what really affects wouldn’t find a western european having as much trouble as an asian would here,would you?!its not about nationality,its about the culture.

  • Az Cd

    Az Cd

    February 28th, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    Although discrimination can be an issue in the higher rates among minorities,what could also be a problem is the immigrant staying thousands of miles away from his family and from the place he grew up in…This if I’m not wrong can be a major factor for depression…



    February 28th, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    Mental health care is definitely not a one size fits all type of scenario that’s for sure. What works for one group or even one person could be seen as offensive to another. Have to be careful about issues like that and be better attuned to what certain people need for their personal journeys of recovery.

  • Melinda


    March 1st, 2011 at 5:45 AM

    Hope that this is done with much research into what works for certain cultures and is not just thrown together with ideas about what MAY work.

  • Kristin


    March 1st, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Asians are often stereotyped as having parents that are incredibly strict. Whenever this is common or not, stereotypes don’t come from nothing. If you put too much pressure on your kids, it’s going to backfire and hard, even leading to suicide in some cases. We’re supposed to love our kids, not crush their spirits, and that’s something we see happen in all cultures.

  • Jude


    March 3rd, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    Culture is a complex thing, and the act of committing suicide due to shame is in a few of them. Everyone knows that Samurai warriors would commit seppuku if they failed their masters, and the concept was simply ingrained in the culture. People need to accept that people can make mistakes. There is nothing to gain from driving another human being into the depths of depression or to suicide.

  • Nigel


    March 4th, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    I’ve learned that talking to people differently according to their culture and respectfully gets the message across. If you talk to an American about family, you’ll get mixed reactions. Talk to a Mexican or an Englishman about family and they may react in a completely different fashion. You should still respect an individual’s culture if you want to be shown the same respect in return.

  • Shawn


    March 4th, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    I find that bigoted jerks are usually people that are unable to handle their own anxieties and baseless fears about other cultures. They hide behind bravado, needing to feel high and mighty and doing everything possible to inflate their ego. If they can’t make something of themselves, they’ll just try and degrade others.

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