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

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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Sunmin Lee.

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Lee, S., Juon, HS., Martinez, G. et al. Model Minority at Risk: Expressed Needs of Mental Health by Asian American Young Adults. J Community Health 34, 144–152 (2009).

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