Mental health

July 28, 2011


Whereas Western cultures view suicide as a religious sin, such a taboo does not exist in most Asian cultures. For traditional Chinese and Japanese, suicide can be seen as an honorable way to save face and to remove shame from one’s family. The Japanese language has over 20 words for suicide, mostly describing different means of accomplishing it. For women aged 15-24, and over age 65, Asian Americans have the highest rates of suicide.


Mental illness holds great stigma for many Asian and Pacific Islanders, so that when they finally seek psychiatric help, they are severely ill. Mental illness is often underreported because of interdependence and duty between family members. For example, if mental illness in the family is revealed, relatives may become stigmatized, unemployable, or unmarriageable.


Posttraumatic stress disorder and the psychological impacts of trauma are rampant within Asian and Pacific Islander American families. Many have endured torture, rape, starvation, and the witnessing of family members being murdered as a result of political persecution or difficult journeys of exile. This is especially true for recent Southeast Asian immigrants from Vietnam and Cambodia. Although most U.S.-born Asian Americans have not personally suffered these traumas, parents who have shaped their emotional and intellectual world-view may be heavily influenced by trauma inflicted by the Chinese Communist Revolution, the Korean War, or the internment of Japanese Americans in U.S. concentration camps during World War II.


Many Asian and Pacific Islanders tend to express emotional distress through physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach upset, or various other symptoms with no discernible physical cause. For example, among a group of Cambodian American women who suffer psychosomatic blindness, 90% had witnessed the killing of a relative.


About 80% of Asians and 10% of Caucasians metabolize alcoholic beverages in a manner that causes flushing and gastrointestinal upset, a reaction that can be protective against alcoholism. Many studies confirm ethnic differences in enzymes that metabolize alcohol.

SEE ALSO: Immigrant health, Posttraumatic stress disorder, Suicide

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Category: Asian and Pacific Islander