You are here

Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities and Mental Health

Mental Health America works nationally and locally to raise awareness about mental health and ensures that those at-risk for mental illnesses and related disorders receive proper, timely and effective treatment. MHA incorporates culturally competent strategies to ensure that it is effectively addressing the treatment and psychosocial needs of consumers and families with diverse values, beliefs, sexual orientations, and backgrounds that vary by race, ethnicity and/or language.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2014: (

Demographics/Societal Issues

  • There are 19 million people in the United States who identify as Asian/Pacific Islander, up from 11 million people just fifteen years earlier.  6 million live in California, followed by 1.7 million who live in New York.
  • Among Asian Americans, 6.2 million are of Chinese descent, 3.9 million of Filipino descent, and 3.3 million of Indian descent, followed by 1.9 million of Vietnamese descent, 1.8 million of Korean descent, and 1.3 million of Japanese descent.
  • In 2012, 13 percent of Asian Americans lived below poverty level, and 15 percent were without health insurance.  21 percent of Pacific Islanders lived below poverty level, and 18 percent were uninsured.
  • 51 percent of Asian Americans have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, compared to 29 percent of all Americans, and 15 percent of Pacific Islanders.
  • 270,000 Asians are veterans, one-third of them over the age of 65. More than 32,000 Pacific Islanders (including Hawaiians) are also veterans.
  • The AA/PI category is extremely diverse, with about 43 different ethnic subgroups who speak more than 100 languages and dialects.


  • Knowledge of the mental health needs and attitudes of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders regarding mental illness is limited. Few epidemiological studies have included Asian Americans or people whose English is limited.
  •  The National Asian Women’s Health Organization (NAWHO) sponsored a study, Breaking the Silence: A Study of Depression Among Asian American Women, that found:
    • Conflicting cultural values are impacting Asian-American women's sense of control over their life decisions
    • Feeling responsible, yet unable to meet biased and unrealistic standards set by families and society, contributes to low self-esteem among Asian-American women
    • Asian-American women witness depression in their families, but have learned from their Asian cultures to maintain silence on the subject
    • Asian-American women fear stigma for themselves, but more so for their families


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in general Asian Americans report fewer mental health concerns than do whites.  However:

  • 18.9 percent of Asian American high school students report considering suicide, versus 15.5 percent of whites.
  • 10.8 percent of Asian American high school students report having attempted suicide, versus 6.2 percent of whites.
  • Asian American high school females are twice as likely (15 percent) to have attempted suicide than males (7 percent).
  • Suicide death rates are 30 percent higher for 15-24 year old Asian American females than they are for white females (5.3 versus 4.0). 
  • Suicide death rates for 65+ year old Asian American females are higher than they are for white females (4.8 to 4.5).

Source: Office of Minority Health (

Treatment Issues

There are very few studies that examine the response of AA/PIs and other minorities to mental health treatment. 

  • One 1998 study found that AA/PIs were significantly less likely than whites to report mental health problems to a friend or relative (12 percent versus 25 percent), to a mental health professional (4 percent versus 26 percent), or to a physician (2 percent versus 13 percent).
  • Another found that AA/PI clients had poorer short-term outcomes and less satisfaction with individual psychotherapy than did white Americans.
  • Still another found that older Chinese Americans with symptoms of depression responded to cognitive-behavior therapy as did other multiethnic populations.
  • A 2007 study found that language and cultural barriers were obstacles to treatment in the Asian American population.

Source: American Psychiatric Association (file:///C:/Users/me/Downloads/fact-sheet---asian-americans.pdf)


Historically, AA/PIs have had challenges in accessing health care and insurance.

  • Nearly 1 out of 2 Asian Americans will have difficulty accessing mental health treatment because they do not speak English or cannot find services that meet their language needs. (US Surgeon General, 1999)
  • Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, 15 percent of Asian Americans, and 18 percent of Pacific Islanders lacked health insurance (US Census Bureau, 2012).
  • Asian Americans appear to have lower use of mental health services relative to other U.S. populations, but this is influenced by nativity and generation status.  (Kim, 2007)

Partnerships and Resources


500 Montgomery Street, Suite 820
 Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone (703) 684.7722

Toll Free (800) 969.6642

Fax (703) 684.5968

Text Resize

-A +A

The links on this page may contain document data that requires additional software to open: