School workloads and college applications lead to harming the mental health of many Asian American students. (Photo by Jacob Zheng)

Education

Opinion: The unspoken reality of mental health in Asian communities

Anxiety and depression are on the rise for many high school students, especially since college application season is approaching. Many high school students, especially Asian American students, are feeling intense pressure to gain admission to a prestigious college. Since Asian culture is heavily tied to success in academics, my Asian American friends and I have…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/jzcollege101/" target="_self">Jacob Zheng</a>

Jacob Zheng

August 20, 2021

Anxiety and depression are on the rise for many high school students, especially since college application season is approaching. Many high school students, especially Asian American students, are feeling intense pressure to gain admission to a prestigious college.

Since Asian culture is heavily tied to success in academics, my Asian American friends and I have been anxious over seeing the lowered admission rates for top colleges. According to the L.A. Times, UCLA reduced its admission rates from 14.4% to 10.7% for the fall of 2021. Last year, many of my high achieving Asian American friends were rejected from top colleges, which propelled them into a deep depression.

To make matters worse, Asian American students are often told by their parents that they are failures for not getting into Harvard, Stanford, UCLA — the list goes on.

The subject of mental health is not widely discussed within Asian American communities. It is still considered “taboo,” especially to Asians from the older, immigrant generations. Due to the stigmatization of mental illness, the National Latino and Asian American Study has revealed that Asian Americans have a 17.30% overall lifetime rate of any psychiatric disorder. Only 8.6% of Asian Americans sought any type of mental help services, compared to 18% of the general American population.

While these percentages may seem low, they are only accounting for the reported cases amongst Asian Americans. Most Asian Americans struggling with mental illness keep it to themselves, for mental illness is considered a form of “weakness” in many Asian communities. Therefore, we can assume that the rate of mental illness within Asian Americans is much higher than reported.

Why is something so prevalent within a community so rarely discussed?

According to the American Psychological Association, Asian culture, or more specifically Asian immigrant culture, is centered around hard work, efficiency, and being the best. This competitive environment causes many young Asian Americans to push themselves to their limits, constantly compromising their mental health and wellbeing.

As an Asian American student myself, I understand this culture of competition and excellence too well. I have heard many traditionally minded Asian parents chalk psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety, to “laziness and excuses.” The lack of education and understanding on topics surrounding mental health and wellbeing fails to provide young Asian Americans with a platform to seek professional help.

In fact, I have had multiple Asian American friends reach out to me throughout my high school years, confiding to me of their rising depression and anxiety, which is worsened by their packed schedules and unreasonable workloads. Many times, we discuss how our parents do not understand the pressure we put on ourselves, and how we oftentimes feel isolated in our anxieties.

When we see other students challenging themselves academically, we feel panicked that we are falling more and more behind. This feeling of failure exacerbates depression and anxiety experienced by many Asian American students. In a recent L.A. Times article, the average student that is admitted to UCLA has a weighted GPA of 4.5 and takes 23 advanced courses, including IB and AP classes.

Thus, Asian American students who are perceived as “model children” force themselves to take 6 or more AP courses in one semester. But the inability to do well in these courses further degrades their mental illness. Without resources or support, many of these Asian American students are left to suffer privately.

This feeling of isolation also leads to other more serious issues such as suicide. According to the American Psychological Association, based on national suicide rates in 2007, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Asian Americans ages 15 through 34.

Hearing this makes me think about classmates and friends I have had over the years who have self-harmed themselves in private, covering up their wounds with long-sleeved shirts and hoodies. I was close to losing many of them simply because they did not know who to trust and who to turn to with their feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Given the staggering number of Asian American students who struggle from mental illness on a daily basis, it is surprising that our community still stays silent on this issue. It is time that we educate both parents and children of the mental health resources available. We need to open up the discussion of mental health in our Asian American communities, for facilitating such discussions is the only way we can help the many students who are silently suffering.