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Minority Mental Health Month: Asian American, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the experiences of minority groups or the disparities and oppression they face every day. I am a counselor and this is the result of my personal research on the subject in hopes to educate and help others with the information I find.

Mental Health Statistics for Asian Americans in the US

  • Of the US Asian American population, 15% reported having a mental illness in the past year.

  • The death rate for suicide in Asian American women ages 15-24 is ten percent higher than the overall population in that age bracket.

  • Suicidal ideation among male students in grades 9-12 is 5% higher than the overall population in that age bracket.

  • Of those who needed mental healthcare, only 6% of the Asian American population received it compared to 18.6% of the non-Hispanic White population.


The biggest barrier that Asian Americans (including Pacific Islanders and Hawaiians) face when seeking out mental health treatment is related to their community and spirituality based on their heritage. The following are some facts related to the Asian American community and the impact of their beliefs, values, heritage, and overall norms on mental health and mental health treatment.

  • Many young Asian Americans, according to the National Asian Women’s Health Organization (NAWHO) feel responsible while also feeling unable to meet biased and unrealistic standards set by their families and society for Asian American women.

  • NAWHO also found that Asian American Women witness depression in their families while growing up and have learned to silence the subject rather than address it.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the following phrases are well-known by the Asian American community in relation to mental health, treatment, and symptoms:

  • “I must be successful and cannot show signs of weakness.”

  • “It’s a burden to share my emotions.”

  • “I’m ungrateful for all I have.”

  • “It’s disrespectful to my spiritual beliefs.”

  • “I don’t know how to talk about mental health with my relatives.”

  • “I’ve tried therapy before, and I didn’t find it helpful.”

Socioeconomic Status

  • Around 6% of the US population identifies as Asian or Pacific Islander.

  • In 2018, almost 11% of Asian Americans lived below the poverty level and 6.2% did not have health insurance.

  • Hawaiian Natives and Pacific Islanders were at almost 15% below the poverty level and almost 9% without health insurance.

  • The Bamboo Ceiling, according to Jane Hyun, is the inability for Asian Americans to progress in their careers due to racism, stereotypes, and quotas. This is contributed to by the under-representation of Asian Americans in US media, sports, politics, business, and education. It lead to the 2018 statistic that Asian Americans are the LEAST likely group in the US to be promoted to management.

Provider Bias

There is provider bias all over the united states due to lack of understanding, unconscious inaccurate beliefs, and at times actual racism. This year, the country has a higher rate of bias against Asian Americans due to the COVID-19 outbreak. An example of this is the President of the United States referring to COVID-19 as the “Kung-flu”. Sadly, there are many examples of hate crimes against Asian Americans due to an influx of racism against Asian Americans recently. As a counselor, I want to believe that none of my fellow counselors, therapist, or social workers would do such a thing, but as a realist I have to recognize that it is a possibility. It happens every day.

Counseling as a profession is disproportionately white just as the US’s population is. Over 60% of Counselors in the United States identify as Non-Hispanic White while only 3% identify as Asian, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islanders. This issue can only be resolved by the Counselors in the field. Counselors who feel as though they are inclusive and educated are responsible to keeping themselves up to date on cultural competency and consistently checking their own person biases. Counselors that do not already consider themselves educated are responsible for educating themselves in any way they can so that they do reach cultural competency and understanding of cultures and beliefs that are different than their own so that they can check their own personal biases.

Resources for Asian American, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Clients

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