Helpful Topics for Asian Americans to Address for their Mental Health
1. Acculturation value conflicts
Acculturation is how much you identify with Western cultural values. Enculturation is how much you identify with Asian cultural values. Obviously, you can identify with both sets of values, which can lead to internal tension/conflict and cognitive dissonance. E.G., “Do I do what’s best for me individually, or do what’s best for my family?” It is helpful navigate this tension in values with ourselves, with our parents, families, and community.
Asian Cultural Values Western Cultural Values
Group, family identity Autonomy, self-governed
Achievement of goals set by others Achievement of individual goals
Obligation is to the group Trained to be an individual
Collective self-esteem Individual self-esteem
Responsibility to and for others Responsibility to myself
Duty is to others Personal rights
Motivation is based on obligation Motivation based on personal conviction
Submissive to authority, Respect for elder Believes rules and control lead to conformity
Emphasis on positions in relationship, Pushes superiority/inferiority to be more equal
older individuals have higher status Everyone has equal status
Accepts rules and respectability Questions authority
Passivity and yieldedness Aggressive and expressive
Adherence to social politeness Assertive
Emphasis on not drawing attention to oneself Makes self known
2. Asian American Ethnic/Racial Formation and Identity
Berry’s model has been used to help navigate ethnic identity formation. The model provides four categories that we go through as we develop our Asian American identity.
Assimilation: Seeking to become part of the dominant society.
Enculturation: Identifying with the Asian culture.
Integration: Retaining many Asian values while simultaneously adapting to the dominant culture.
Marginalization: Feeling rejected by both Asian and the dominant culture. Perceiving Asian culture as negative, and unable to be accepted by majority culture.
3. View of Mental Health
Much of the mental health practice in the U.S. comes from a Western/European worldview. It is helpful for Asian Americans to translate and process their view of mental health.
Identify and de-stigmatize stigma towards mental illness and mental health treatment.
Address help-seeking attitudes and behaviors.
Consider the suppression, expression, and validation (invalidation) of emotions.
4. The Relationship between Mind and Body
A pattern in Asian American mental health is the somatization of their mental health symptoms. This means that Asian Americans tend to report experiencing indigestion, fatigue, lethargy, low energy, headaches, problems sleeping, low appetite, before they report feeling depressed or anxious, negative thoughts, or problems with attention.
It is helpful to learn about the relationship between our physical bodies and our psychology.
Learn about the physiology of depression, anxiety, ADHD, trauma, addiction.
5. Academic, Career, Life Expectations and Goals
Individuating from our dependency on our family or origin is a rite of passage for all families but is particularly complex in Asian American families.
Address and resolve conflicts related to family, parental, and individual goals related to life choices:
Where to live
Who to date/marry
Which school to attend
What to study
Where to work
6. Racism and Discrimination
The model minority myth is a powerful social construct that often inhibits Asian Americans from addressing their mental health. While on the surface, it seems positive to be viewed as a “model” by society, in function it creates the masking of actual struggles that we experience. We become muted and overlooked. The exponential increase of violence against Asian Americans has an effect on our mental health that would be important to process.
Process experiences of racism.
Address the trauma of racism and discrimination.
7. Navigating the intersection of a shame-based culture and a guilt-based culture.
When someone does something wrong in a guilt-based culture: They apologize, make as much reparation as possible, and things are resolved. When someone does something wrong in a shame-based culture: No matter how much they apologize or make reparations, they are still shamed. Guilt says, “I did something wrong.”, while shame says, “There is something wrong with me.”
Process feelings of regret, remorse, shame, and guilt.
Address how you have internalized shame to become part of your identity.
8. Saving Face
One of the most basic differences between how Asians and Americans function is how we write our names. In Asia, you write your last name first, then your first name. In the U.S., we write our first name first, then followed by our last name. The significance of this is that in Asian culture, we prioritize what’s best for the family over what’s best for me as an individual. This is practiced through: saving face. Saving face is the value and practice of earning the respect of others and avoiding shame.
Acknowledge how we present ourselves in public to mask issues within the family.
Address collective self-esteem.
Address the desire to bring honor (and not dishonor) to your family.
9. The Parent-Child Relationship
1st Generation Asian Americans are those who were born in Asia, and immigrated to the U.S. 2nd Generation Asian Americans are born and raised in the U.S. 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation Asian Americans are the children of each subsequent generation. Each generation has its own distinct dynamics of their level of acculturation and view of mental health.
Process messages received, taught, and modeled by your parents.
Discuss parenting styles (Authoritarian, Authoritative, Neglect, Permissive)
Addressing patterns of communication, intimacy, coping, and resolving conflicts.
Addressing unmet childhood needs. E.G., approval, security, positive reinforcement.
Address external vs. internal locus of control.
10. Religion and Spirituality
Since the Asian American religious institution serves the dual role of ethnic community center and spiritual home, it is helpful to navigate your spiritual life in relationship to your ethnic identity.
Address the role religion plays in your ethnic community.
Address the role ethnicity plays in your religion.
Process your spiritual journey.
Identity your belief system and practices.