Depression & Suicide in the Asian American Community

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Lack of Mental Health Awareness in the Culture
  • Academic Pressure
  • Conclusion


Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder that has a major impact on the American population. From 2013-2016 it was reported that about 8.1% of American adults over the age of 20 were diagnosed with depression (CDC). Depression as a mental illness is very difficult to identify because it affects a person's feelings, thinking, and behavior. This heavyweight feeling of sadness and hopelessness is able to last a few days to chronic depression. Causes of major depressive disorder includes dysfunctional mood regulators from the brain, genetic predisposition, stress, medication, and medical problems (Harvard). The complexity of depression causes difficulties in finding treatment including medication. Chemical signals in the brain will vary patient to patient although symptoms of depression are similar.

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In the United States, over 19 million people identify as an Asian American or Pacific Islander. Out of 19 million, more than 13% of them were diagnosed with a mental illness only in the past year (ADDA). Although Asian Americans are reported to have fewer mental health conditions than people who identify as white, they are more likely to consider and attempt to commit suicide. Asians are three times less likely than Whites to seek treatment for their mental health concerns due to many reasons such as stigma, language barrier, and lack of resources.

Lack of Mental Health Awareness in the Culture

There is an underlying fear among the Asian-American community that having mental illness means that you are "crazy." To admit that you have a mental illness and need help from a professional may cause family members to experience a sense of fear and shame. Rather than the issue being about the person with the illness, the parents assume that the cause of their child's unhealthy mental state is the result of their poor parenting or a passed down flaw.

Mental illness is not recognized as an issue in Asian culture. Much like in the United States and other western countries, there is a stigma around mental illness because people who struggle with it are considered "abnormal." When the general public discriminates against people with mental health issues, these people become embarrassed and refuse to reach out for help (NCBI).

Academic Pressure

Asian American students experience academic stress and expectations from themselves and from their parents to achieve academic success. The internalized and externalized expectations are experienced by Asian American students so much so that there may be an unspoken academic competition among themselves and their peers. This academic pressure leads to the increase of depression and suicide within the Asian race. Asian countries have the highest suicide rates due to the prioritization of academics and lack of mental health awareness.

As students, the majority of their lives focus on school and this goes beyond Asian students. A student's life revolves around their education. It is going to stress students out if they are not succeeding in the only thing they have to focus on. The inability to have other interests because all of their time is consumed with studying. Even words from teachers and peers say will stress them out. When everyone is telling students that they should focus on school, that will be all they know. Too much of something is never good, even studying. Not only are Asian students already stressed by family, but the same interaction with other people also do not help their case.

Culturally, Asian families priorities education above everything else. They believe that education is the key to being successful. The National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 indicated that Asian American students were more likely to spend more time doing homework and to attend lessons outside of school. Although Asian parents had high expectations for their children, some did not directly help their children with schoolwork (PsycNET). Even without a parent physically there to push them to their limits, Asian American children were still mentally pressured to do their best academically. In comparison to other races, 80% of Asian American parents expect their children to graduate with at least a Bachelor's degree (Nguyen). It is well known that Asian families tend to push their kids to get into prestigious schools and Ivy League universities. These parents are passing on their unachieved academic dreams onto their children, hoping that they will become successful, but it only leads to ongoing academic stress.

Every family is different, but Asian families generally have higher expectations when it comes to their children's academics. Some examples include: receiving all A's, high GPA, advanced test scores and participating in many extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs.

Asians are also viewed as the model minority in America, which is extra pressure to keep up a good reputation. Many studies have used standardized test scores and school grades such as the SAT, ACT, and GPA to compare Asian students to non-Asian students. From the data that is provided, Asians have a total average SAT score of 1181 out of 1600, with the next highest SAT average being of 1118 out of 1600 from white students (Appendix A). The average ACT score for Asians range from a 21.7 to 23.4 and the next highest would be white students, ranging from 21.8 to 22.3 (Appendix B). Across the American population, the student demographic in the higher education institution (obtaining a Bachelor's degree) is 54 out of 100 percent of Asian Americans in comparison to Whites standing at 37 out of 100 percent. 22 percent of Asians also had higher degrees compared to 14 percent of whites (NYU Steinhardt). Asian American students were more likely than White students to report difficulties with stress, sleep, and feelings of hopelessness, yet they were less likely to seek counseling (Ly).


All of the external and internal pressure can lead to major depression. Mental health illnesses are looked down upon in Asian culture, so Asian American students tend to avoid getting help when it is needed. This easily leads to an increase in suicide rates in Asian American students.

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