Deaths of Despair: Addressing Mental Health in AAPI Communities

In recent years, a distinctive phenomenon has been taking place within the United States: life expectancy has gone down, caused by an increase in deaths during middle age. These increases in deaths, called “Deaths of Despair,” are linked to alcohol, drugs, and suicides. Since 2007, the suicide rate in the United States has risen, becoming the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. In much of the United States and the majority of the international community, there has been a growing conversation about mental health and well-being. However, the topic of mental health and mental illness has long been swept under the rug amongst Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, and it’s time Asian-Americans join the long overdue discussion.

One big reason that conversations about mental health haven't taken root amongst Asian-Americans is due to the cultural values associated with mental health. Throughout Asia, there is a strong emphasis on the concept of family loyalty and harmony. The insistence on conformity and unity as well as additional societal pressures leads to many Asians to refuse to acknowledge mental disorders or seek treatment in order to save face and prevent shame. These cultural values are passed on amongst immigrant communities, continuing to dictate the views of many Asian-Americans.

Traditional views toward spirituality and religion also affect cultural perception towards mental health and treatment amongst Asians. Mental disorders are often thought to be due to a lack of harmony, evil spirits, or simply sadness. As a result, many mental illnesses are treated with traditional alternatives such as herbs, acupuncture, or spiritual action instead of Western medicine. There is no issue with using Eastern medicinal techniques to help treat some mental disorders. For example, studies have shown that traditional Chinese medicine has helped with anxiety and PTSD. However, with m