Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions affect children of all backgrounds, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Unfortunately, AAPI children can be at higher risk for mental health concerns due to feeling different from their peers, experiencing anti-Asian sentiments, and being bullied and purposefully excluded. For example, younger children may feel “othered” when peers say that their packed lunch looks different than everyone else’s or when peers learn that they don’t speak English at home. Teens may feel the pressure of navigating both cultures, for example feeling unhappy if they aren’t allowed to stay out as late as their friends or go on dates.
Data shows that AAPI parents are three times less likely to seek mental health counseling for their children than white parents. This is due to multiple reasons:
- Barriers to care. Access to mental health care can be difficult. There are barriers such as cost, time, and transportation. For communities that may be new to the US healthcare system or have limited English, these barriers can be even more difficult to navigate.
- Seeing symptoms as physical health concerns instead of mental health concerns. Difficulty with emotions and mental health often shows up as behavioral changes or physical symptoms, like headaches or stomachaches. This may lead parents to reach out to a pediatrician, instead of a mental health professional.
- Positive school performance despite mental health symptoms. AAPI children often face pressure to perform their best academically. This may mean that children maintain good grades and positive behavior at school, despite experiencing challenging thoughts and emotions. This may cause caregivers to be unaware of the internal difficulties children are facing.
- Not wanting to be a burden. Due to stigma and how AAPI families traditionally talk about and cope with emotions, AAPI children may keep their concerns to themselves avoid burdening their family.
This is why checking in with children is so important. Talking about your child’s feelings will help you understand what they are going through. These conversations can also help your child know that you are someone they can talk to about when they see cultural differences. To get started:
- Be curious about your child’s life outside of your home. Ask questions every day about school, friends and your child’s interests. Remember your child is navigating both their home and school cultures. Showing interest in their school and friends can be helpful for their mental health.
- Talk to your child about how their AAPI culture feels similar or different from the various cultures at school or of their friends. Through these conversations, you can learn from your child how others in their lives talk about things such as dating, friendships, family culture, and expectations. Be open to listening without judgment. Sometimes, that means validating their feelings and preferences. For example, “It’s ok to like spaghetti more than our family’s traditional dishes”.
- Children learn by watching us. Share your experiences navigating different cultures with your kids. This can help them feel validated, like they’re not alone in what they’re going through.
- Look for early signs that something isn’t right, such as sadness or withdrawal from favorite activities. If you notice that your child stops doing something that they love, find out why. Did someone tease them? Are their tastes changing? Prepare them for possible experiences of bullying and discrimination. This conversation will help them know you are a safe person to talk to.
If your child is experiencing difficult emotions or behaviors for long periods of time, therapy may be helpful. Friends or trusted community members may be able to recommend a good culturally informed therapist. We also have more guidance on what to think about and questions to ask when looking for a culturally informed therapist.