Asian American Teenage Girls and Depression

Working closely with youth, I encounter all kinds of issues connected to identity and relationships, and the various ways that they navigate many confusing experiences – everything from eating disorders to cutting to binge drinking. Hearing a ton of stories about their struggles reminds me that sometimes the darkness and chaos they face is profound, and it’s often more pronounced when they feel alone in it. Although it’s been awhile since I’ve worked specifically with Asian American youth, I do recall seeing red flags here and there indicating similar problems – some things are really universal and cut across those cultural lines.

So, it was troubling, but maybe not surprising, to come across this recent article specifically on Asian American teenage girls: According to NAMI, they have the highest rates of depression. The report is based on “listening sessions” with mental health experts from different communities held in Los Angeles in November 2010. The listening sessions confirmed the impact of such factors as “the model minority myth, underrepresentation of AAPIs in epidemiological studies, mind-body conceptualization and role of racial discrimination,” as well as the reluctance of Asian American girls to seek mental health services because of “stigma, cultural impact of shame, language barriers” as well as “generational differences and conflict regarding family values and beliefs,” (p. 6). The rest of the report goes into detail about the dialogue, these particular issues, and recommendations for action.

Now that I have a little girl, I feel hyper-sensitive to those potential issues in the future and remember my own struggles before finally seeking help. While these findings are disheartening it’s important that these circumstances are brought to light. The tangible, practical steps towards providing healing and help is encouraging, and I hope that organizations – churches, non-profits, etc. – will advocate for Asian American young girls by providing a safe and affirming way to access these services.

For those interested in reading more, the full report from NAMI can be found here.

[Photo courtesy of Mochi]

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Author: Mihee

Mihee lives in the Mid-West with her husband, toddler-aged twins (yes, terrible twos is actually a thing), and baby #3. Though her reserve of brain cells is seriously depleted she is still passionate about Asian American culture, religion and social justice for marginalized people, stories about Korea, sports, and power naps. During the day, she spends a lot of time trying to remember which baby needs to eat or get a diaper change, mentoring and ministering to college students, occasionally taking a walk, writing, watching Sportscenter, or grabbing coffee. You can read her blog here.