Mental Health Issues in Today’s Asian American Community

Dr. Andrew Lee Presenter: Dr. Andrew J. Lee
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Dr. Lee spoke about Asian cultural values and how they impact today’s Asian Americans. He spoke of the model minority myth and how these perceptions feed into the stigma of seeking mental health services amongst Asians. Dr. Lee gave helpful suggestions of pitfalls to avoid and how to talk to this population about mental health issues.


  1. NJCTS says:

    As an Asian parent, how should I be talking with my kids?

    • Dr. Lee says:

      Unfortunately, I am not exactly sure what is meant by this question, but generally, I would suggest being open to talking with your kids about any issues that they might have. Openness is the most important ingredient in being able to cultivate a willingness on the part of the kids to talk. Also, it is very important not to be overly critical or judgmental when talking about things with your kids, as that is something that will make it feel unsafe to talk to you. In addition, I think that it can be helpful to be able to name feelings for kids, obviously depending on the age of the kid, and make some links for them between physical feelings and emotional feelings (i.e. sometimes people get stomachaches when they are nervous about something, is something going on that is making you feel nervous or scared?) Also, be careful about the comparisons to other kids. Remind them that we are all good at some things and not so good at other things and THAT’S OKAY!

  2. NJCTS says:

    Can you say more as to why Asian American youth are at increased risk for suicide?

    • Dr. Lee says:

      I would suggest that it is due to the difficulty in the family with talking about emotional/mental health issues, which can leave the youth feeling confused and/or isolated without an outlet, especially if they are experiencing any type of mental health or personal issue. This isolation can lead to feelings of hopelessness. When any individual begins to feel hopeless or that there is “no way out,” it can lead to suicidal thinking and attempts. Additionally, if the Asian American youth feels that the only focus is on their performance and attaining perfection (see the answer to the next question), this can also contribute to feelings of hopelessness.

  3. NJCTS says:

    What’s the problem with being focused on performance? Aren’t we all focused on that in some way?

    • Dr. Lee says:

      That is a great point! While I absolutely agree that performance is an important issue, and one that many, if not all people, consider, the issue is not a focus on performance, but rather a HYPER-focus on performance and, really, the attainment of perfection. However, being perfect is impossible and that is an important message to convey. Rather, I would suggest that the focus be on excellence, rather than perfection. Excellence allows for some room in terms of the objective performance standards, while still striving for the best of your abilities. And I think this is one of the reasons that Asian American youth may be more prone to suicide, in that they are not able to maintain this standard of perfection, so begin to see themselves as defective in some way, rather than seeing the standard (perfectionism) being the issue. Once this happens, it impacts their sense of self and belief in their value beyond their performance, which can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

  4. NJCTS says:

    The suicides at Cornell, are those numbers indicative of all /most Ivy league schools?

    • Dr. Lee says:

      Based on statistics from the American Psychological Association in 2007, Asian American college students are more likely than White students to have suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide. However, statistics regarding actual deaths due to suicide are not available. In addition, the suicide rates for all Asian Americans were the highest for those people aged 20-24 (pretty much in line with the typical college-aged student). So also there are not available statistics, I would posit that Cornell is no different than other Colleges and Universities.

  5. NJCTS says:

    Regarding the under educated Asian Americans, are they typically first generation? Is it their children who make up those college attendance stats?

    • Dr. Lee says:

      Yes, it is the recent immigrants who are more likely to be under-educated, as they are less likely to know English and may come from more impoverished backgrounds themselves. While it is possible that some of these recent immigrants children will eventually go on to attain greater academic success, this is not always the case. Again, if we think about the experience of a recent uneducated immigrant from a Far East Asian country, living in a Chinatown or other urban setting, not all of them will “make it,” out of this situation, which is why the model minority myth is so problematic. This myth feels very blaming and shaming to those that do not succeed at an extremely high level.