What’s Preventing Asian Americans From Seeking Mental Health Care?

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

When it comes to mental health, many Asian Americans are hesitant to seek mental health services.

Less than 9% of Asian Americans, on average, seek professional help, and are three times less likely to seek help than white Americans. What causes this disparity, and how can we help break the stigma surrounding mental illness for this community?

This content is also available in Spanish.

Audience Questions

Dr. Geoffrey Liu discusses mental health in the Asian American community and answers audience questions about rethinking the ways we engage with this population.

  • I’m not Asian American, but my partner/friend/coworker, etc. is. How can I be a supportive person in their life even when I am not necessarily part of the community?
  • How can I talk to multiple generations about mental health and make my family a more open space for dialogue? Is this possible, or is this a lost cause?
  • I am an Asian American clinician and sometimes worry about my ability to effectively work with Asian patients older than I—since elders are “wiser.” Do you have recommendations?
  • What are some strategies that college counseling centers can use to appeal to Asian students to use these resources? For many of these students, it is their first time in America.
  • Do you have advice for children of first-generation immigrants whose parents are most likely experiencing mental illness of some kind but deflect whenever their kids bring up the notion of treatment?
  • My family doesn’t believe in mental illness. How can I be more forthcoming with them about my concerns without risking being made to feel like I am weak?
  • How do you prep an Asian American for a counseling session if they don’t understand how it works? Quote: “The therapist asked me what seems to be the issue/problem. If I know what my problems are, I would not be here!”
  • What do you perceive to be the biggest mistake(s) that white clinicians make when working with Asian American patients?
  • Psychotherapy, CBT, etc. are based around Western culture. Do you see any effective counseling theories emerging that are Eastern-influenced?
  • I hate to admit it, but many older patients are inclined to cling to superstitions or potions. Do you have any suggestions to address mental health with someone like this?
  • In today’s climate, I am worried about being offensive, even when I am approaching with the best intentions. How can I be culturally sensitive without coming across as being stereotypical?
  • Is it common for Asian American populations to be expected to verbally affirm beliefs or values with others?
  • When working with Asian Americans, is the treater’s background important in establishing an alliance?
  • Can you address “hierarchies” among different Asian nationalities? As a Filipina clinician, sometimes patients who identify as other Asian nationalities seem to directly dismiss my “Asian-ness.” Meaning, their cultural values are “more Asian and more highly valued” than what they perceive mine to be.
  • How do we bridge the gap between parents and adolescents in relation to treatment goals? For example, first-generation parents are focused on school performance and their teen is struggling with suicidality and depression.
  • What role, if any, does social status and hierarchy play in recommending someone seek mental health treatment? And how can we overcome any barriers to connecting someone to mental health services related to these factors?
  • How can one remove the stigma of what the stereotypical ideology of Asians is when it is so embedded within Asian populations? Do you believe the average non-Asian developed this stereotype of Asians by way of the Asian behavior to display the portrayal of being educationally rigid and emotionless?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.

Additional Resources

You may find these resources helpful to learn more about the Asian American community and Asian American mental health:

About Dr. Liu

Geoffrey Z. Liu, MD, is an assistant psychiatrist at McLean’s Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program. He also serves as a supervising psychiatrist to residents in the Adult Outpatient Services and is on staff at the Mentalization-Based Treatment Clinic, which provides evidence-based care to patients with personality disorders. Dr. Liu is also a member of the faculty at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Cross-Cultural Student Emotional Wellness, which is aimed at creating mental wellness resources for young Asians and Asian Americans.

Dr. Liu’s academic interests include cultural psychiatry, and in particular, the different ways cultures view dependency. He is also interested in using different forms of psychotherapy to figure out what works best in the treatment of complex patients.

Read more about Dr. Liu.

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Originally aired July 29, 2020