Student workHouston 2018

End the stigma: The impact of mental illness in AAPI communities

AAPIs with mental illnesses say they often fear bringing shame to themselves and their families, while their family members may fear being shamed by their communities.

Published August 9, 2018

Headshot of Tsering Bista Tsering Bista
Headshot of Michelle Hanks Michelle Hanks
Headshot of Salgu Wissmath Salgu Wissmath

Content Warning: The following story includes mention of suicide. 

Let’s talk

Mental illness is generally stigmatized, but even more so among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. Those with mental illnesses say they often fear bringing shame to themselves and their families, while their family members may fear being shamed by their communities.

As a result of that fear, AAPI individuals and their loved ones are reluctant to have open dialogues about mental health. This silence is also a result of generational differences, as many immigrant parents grew up in cultures where mental health and emotions were not topics of conversation.

[My mom] is not very understanding. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want to be or doesn’t try to be, but just that she almost physically does not know how.

— Hannah Carter, Japanese American with PTSD and Dissociative Disorder

Anonymous notes from attendees of the 2018 AAJA National Convention in Houston.

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 1.8 million AAPI adults reported having a mental illness in the past year.

What experts say

Because we’re the South Asian culture, we don’t air out our “dirty laundry.” Everything that’s within the home stays within the home.

— Pooja Raj, Consultant at Sakhi for South Asian Women

Barriers to access

According to the 2014 census report, there are more than 12.7 million Asian immigrants in the United States.

Immigrants with mental illnesses often face cultural, linguistic and economic barriers which make it difficult, if not impossible, to access health care resources.

  1. Cultural: Hyper-stigmatization makes it socially unacceptable in many AAPI communities to have a mental health illness, let alone talk about it or seek treatment.

  2. Linguistic: According to the professionals we spoke to, individuals may not be able to find mental health professionals who speak their native language, making it especially difficult for non-English speakers to get help. Even in their native language, individuals may not have the vocabulary to explain the nuance of their emotions.

  3. Economic: Therapy and medication are expensive, and hospitalization can be a financial burden for many families. Travel costs to culturally-competent professionals can add up, especially for those in rural areas.


If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

If you or a loved one are in danger, call 911 or contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741-741.

Share your story with us on social media and help #EndtheStigmaAAJA.

Want to remain anonymous? Share your story here.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about mental illness?


Headshot of Tsering Bista

Tsering Bista

New York University

Headshot of Michelle Hanks

Michelle Hanks

Western Kentucky University

Headshot of Salgu Wissmath

Salgu Wissmath

Ohio University

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