South Asian culture

The South Asian Population and Mental Health

The South Asian population is an inherently diverse, vibrant, and multifaceted population. Whether it is their language, religion, or customs, South Asians exhibit a vast array of richness and pride in their cultural roots. Despite these differences, however, South Asians do share one common thread: their resistance to accept mental illnesses and seek help in overcoming them. This resistance is the result of many factors, including disparities in mental health and mental health care experiences. Historically religious beliefs, social stigma, and family expectations have prevented South Asians from asking for professional help for mental health related problems. Even today, in a rapidly evolving and modernizing world, the South Asian population remains reluctant to address this “taboo” topic until the situation reaches a level of crisis.

Given the competitive environment rampant across the world, managing high levels of stress can become that much more challenging. High stress levels, when left untouched, can take a toll on other parts of one’s life and health, mental health included. Three decades of research on mental health show that Asian Americans exhibit large numbers of depressive symptoms, especially when compounded with factors such as stress

[1]. Suicide is the fifth-leading cause of death among this population, as compared to the ninth-leading cause of death among Non-Hispanic white Americans[2]. Among women aged between 15-24, Asian American females have the highest suicide rates among all racial and ethnic groups[3]. Every seven hours an Asian American child is arrested for a violent crime[4]. Asian American adolescent boys are twice as likely to have been physically abused and three times as likely to report sexual abuse as White American adolescent boys[5].

Despite these alarming facts, there seems to be an insurmountable barrier that continues to dissuade Asian Americans from getting the help they need, when they need it. The root cause for this barrier is still blurry. However, immigration to the United States—a “foreign” country and culture—may elucidate a more concrete reason for this barrier, as cultural adaptation brings its own set of stress and anxiety. For example, as an immigrant population, it has been documented that South Asians face economic and language barriers that prevent them from accessing health care, thereby making them more vulnerable to advanced depression and other mental health disorders[6]. This population is also known to place their cultural norm of using alternative and holistic treatments before resorting to western allopathic treatments. Inevitably, there is an urgent need to develop and implement culturally and linguistically appropriate interventions to evaluate and address these disparities[7]. Effective health communication with consumers also needs to take place in a culturally sensitive manner[8]. SAMHIN was created with the mission to provide an outlet for the South Asian community and address these disparities in a professional, culturally competent manner.


  1. University of Hawaii (n.d.). NAWHO Factsheet on Mental Health and Depression Among Asians. May 24, 2011.
  2. Office of Minority Health. (n.d.). Mental Health and Asians. May 24,2011.
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. Health. (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2002).
  4. Children’s Defense Fund. Special Report: Sizing up the Odds. (1999).
  5. Schoen, C., et al. The Health of Adolescent Boys: Commonwealth Fund Survey Findings. (Louis Harris and Associates, Inc., 1998).
  6. NAMI Multicultural Action Center Fact Sheet: Mental Health Issues among Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities. 2011.
  7. Smith WR, Betancourt JR, Wynia MK; Bussey-Jones J, Stone VE, Phillips CO, Fernandez A, Jacobs E, and Bowles J. Recommendations for Teaching about Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health and Health Care. Annals of Internal Medicine 2007; 147(9):654-665.
  8. Kreps, G.L. & Sparks, L. Meeting the health literacy needs of immigrant populations. Patient Education and Counseling, (2008); 71:328-332.