Model Minority at Risk: Expressed Needs of Mental Health by Asian American Young Adults

  • Sunmin Lee
  • Hee-Soon Juon
  • Genevieve Martinez
  • Chiehwen E. Hsu
  • E. Stephanie Robinson
  • Julie Bawa
  • Grace X. Ma
Original Paper


The objective of this study is to obtain and discuss in-depth information on mental health problems, including the status, barriers, and potential solutions in 1.5 and 2nd generation Asian American young adults. As a part of the Health Needs Assessment project, the researchers conducted two focus groups with 17 young adults (mainly 1.5 or 2nd generation) from eight Asian American communities (Asian Indian, Cambodian, Chinese, Indonesian, Korean, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese) in Montgomery County, Maryland. We developed a moderator’s guide with open-ended questions and used it to collect qualitative data. Using a software, we organized and identified emergent themes by major categories. Participants reported a several common sources of stress that affect the mental health of Asian American young adults including: pressure to meet parental expectations of high academic achievement and live up to the “model minority” stereotype; difficulty of balancing two different cultures and communicating with parents; family obligations based on the strong family values; and discrimination or isolation due to racial or cultural background. Young Asian Americans tend not to seek professional help for their mental health problems; instead they use personal support networks—close friends, significant others, and religious community. Participants suggested that Asian cultural norms that do not consider mental problems important, and associated stigma of seeking professional care might undermine their mental health help seeking behavior. Our findings support a need for delivering culturally appropriate programs to raise awareness of mental health and cultural training for health providers to deliver culturally appropriate care.


Mental health Asian American Young adults Immigrant health 1.5 generation 2nd generation 



This research was funded by Asian American Health Initiative, Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Maryland. This publication was also partially supported by the NCI Grant U01 CA114582 ATECAR-Asian Community Cancer Network (Grace X. Ma, Ph.D., Principal Investigator). The authors thank the research coordinators and note-takers Bertina Su and Jennifer Choi, research assistants (Jamie Lok, Viktor Pattianakotta, Margaret Lahey, Teddy Weng, Laura Sambataro, and Chris Daniels) who helped us in recruiting participants, transcribing focus group discussion, and translating/interpreting diverse languages. They were mostly University of Maryland undergraduate/graduate students. The research team appreciates the support of AAHI staff (Julie Bawa, Lisa Canda, Perry Chan, Roanne Calizo, Anne Poblador, and Christine Liang). We are grateful for the numerous community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, stakeholders and leaders from each community, and focus group participants.


  1. 1.
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2008). 10 leading causes of deaths, United States, 2005 (Vol. 2008). Atlanta: CDC.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hovey, J. D., Kim, S. E., & Seligman, L. D. (2006). The influences of cultural values, ethnic identity, and language use on the mental health of Korean American college students. The Journal of Psychology, 140(5), 499–511.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Yeh, M., Hough, R. L., McCabe, K., Lau, A., & Garland, A. (2004). Parental beliefs about the causes of child problems: Exploring racial/ethnic patterns. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 43(5), 605–612.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Shrake, E. K., & Rhee, S. (2004). Ethnic identity as a predictor of problem behaviors among Korean American adolescents. Adolescence, 39(155), 601–622.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Mossakowski, K. N. (2003). Coping with perceived discrimination: Does ethnic identity protect mental health? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44(3), 318–331.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Gee, G. C., Delva, J., & Takeuchi, D. T. (2007). Relationships between self-reported unfair treatment and prescription medication use, illicit drug use, and alcohol dependence among Filipino Americans. American Journal of Public Health, 97(5), 933–940.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Gee, G. C. (2002). A multilevel analysis of the relationship between institutional and individual racial discrimination and health status. American Journal of Public Health, 92(4), 615–623.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Spencer, M. S., & Chen, J. (2004). Effect of discrimination on mental health service utilization among Chinese Americans. American Journal of Public Health, 94(5), 809–814.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gee, G. C., Spencer, M., Chen, J., Yip, T., & Takeuchi, D. T. (2007). The association between self-reported racial discrimination and 12-month DSM-IV mental disorders among Asian Americans nationwide. Social Science & Medicine, 64(10), 1984–1996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ku, L., & Matani, S. (2000). Immigrants’ access to health care and insurance on the cusp of welfare reform (No.). Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Abe-Kim, J., Takeuchi, D. T., Hong, S., Zane, N., Sue, S., Spencer, M. S., et al. (2007). Use of mental health-related services among immigrant and US-born Asian Americans: Results from the National Latino and Asian American Study. American Journal of Public Health, 97(1), 91–98.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. (2003). Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders addressing health disparities: Opportunities for building a healthier America. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    US Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Mental health: Culture, race, and ethnicity: A supplement to mental health (No. SMA-01-3613). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Krueger, R. A. (1988). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Morgan, D. L. (1998). Focus groups in qualitative research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Garland, A. F., Lau, A. S., Yeh, M., McCabe, K. M., Hough, R. L., & Landsverk, J. A. (2005). Racial and ethnic differences in utilization of mental health services among high-risk youths. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162(7), 1336–1343.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Leal, C. C. (2005). Stigmatization of Hispanic children, pre-adolescents, and adolescents with mental illness: Exploration using a national database. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 26(10), 1025–1041.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sunmin Lee
    • 1
  • Hee-Soon Juon
    • 3
  • Genevieve Martinez
    • 4
  • Chiehwen E. Hsu
    • 5
  • E. Stephanie Robinson
    • 2
  • Julie Bawa
    • 6
  • Grace X. Ma
    • 7
  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology & BiostatisticsUniversity of Maryland School of Public HealthCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Epidemiology & BiostatisticsUniversity of Maryland School of Public HealthCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.Department of Health, Behavior, and SocietyJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Department of Public and Community HealthUniversity of Maryland School of Public HealthCollege ParkUSA
  5. 5.University of Texas School of Health Information SciencesHoustonUSA
  6. 6.Asian American Health InitiativeMontgomery County Department of Health and Human ServicesRockvilleUSA
  7. 7.Department of Public Health & Center for Asian HealthTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations