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 GoodTherapy.org.
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