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How Do Family Expectations and Stress Affect Asian American Mental Health?

Asian American family

“I’m so glad to be alive. Every day we are seeing Asian Americans die because of lack of services, stigma and suicide.”  

Can Truong spoke those words at APA’s recent Ethnicity and Health Series community forum – “Great expectations: Exploring family dynamics and stress among Asian and Asian American populations” cosponsored with the DC Mayor’s Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs and the AARP.

Can directs the National Asian American Pacific Islanders Empowerment Network, a mental health advocacy organization. He was referring to his struggle with bipolar disorder, chronicled in “CAN: What does it take to heal from mental illness?”, a documentary film by Pearl J. Parks.

This intimate and compelling portrait reveals how Can’s diagnosis placed a great strain on his relationship with his parents. He had to deal with the high expectations for success that are often placed on Asian males along with the cultural stigma and silence that persists toward mental illness.

Can’s story echoed through the four major themes of the panelists’ presentations:

1.       Cultural and racial factors:

Matthew Miller, PhD (Asst. Professor, University of Maryland, College Park) revealed that compared with their non-Asian counterparts, Asian and Asian American populations have poorer mental health and access services at a much lower rate. In particular, the family acculturation gap conflict can lead to acculturative stress which has negative mental health effects.

2.       Gender norms:

Derek Iwamoto, PhD (Asst. Professor, University of Maryland, College Park) discussed the high pressure among their families for Asian men to succeed although they are often emasculated in American culture. Masculine norms (e.g., emotional control, self-reliance, dominance and power over women) are often tied up in mental health for Asian men.

3.       Expressions of parenting warmth:

Charissa Cheah, PhD (Assoc. Professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore County) spoke about how parenting styles may be influenced by traditional Confucian childrearing beliefs. For example, parents are not expected to explicitly express warmth. Instead, they tend to show love for their children through devotion to their care rather than through verbal expressions of love. It is important to support healthy family functioning and bicultural development of Asian American children and youth.

4.       Barriers to healthcare for Asian American communities:

Myron Dean Quon, Esq. (Nat’l Director, National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse) called for healthcare providers to better address various barriers (e.g., language proficiency, lack of insurance, immigrant status, fear of burdening family, and stigma concerning substance use disorders and mental health).

In his dialogue with the audience, Can spoke at length about the need for stigma reduction, culturally-based services, and peer counseling for mental illness in the Asian American community. He concluded on a positive note for other Asian Americans grappling with a mental disorder:

“There’s a lot of hope. People need to hear stories of recovery and receive support and services.”

We made sure to live tweet the Great Expectations forum. Check out our Storify!

We also have photos from the event below!

AAPI Month 2013 Activity 2

Can Truong addresses the audience

AAPI Month 2013 Activity 3

Standing: Tiffany Townsend, PhD (OEMA Sr. Director). Seated (l-r): Myron Quon, Esq; Charissa Cheah, PhD; Matthew Miller, PhD; & Derek Iwamoto, PhD

We want to hear from you! Tell us in the comments:

  1. What are some ways to break the silence about mental illness among Asian and Asian American communities?

  2. How can we address the barriers to mental healthcare that Asian and Asian American communities face?

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