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Asian American Mental Health and the “Model Minority” Myth

Public discussions around topics of race, racism and discrimination have brought to light a decades-old narrative that continues to affect Asian Americans — the model minority myth. This racist stereotype implies that Asian minorities in the United States are more adjusted, more hardworking, more academically gifted and better integrated than other minorities into American society.

On its face, the model minority myth appears positive. Yet, this dangerous stereotype segregates communities and can cause Asian Americans to experience harmful mental health consequences.

What Is the Myth of the Model Minority?

The model minority myth is a sinister stereotype that describes Asian Americans as one of the most hardworking, successful and law-abiding ethnic minorities. It paints the picture that this ethnic group has overcome hardship, discrimination and oppression to fully embrace the “American Dream.” The trouble is that this term is a racial stereotype externally imposed on Asian Americans.

The Asian model minority stereotype comes with many expectations, such as being:

  • Naturally good at math, science and technology
  • Ultimately successful in careers and economic goals
  • Hardworking
  • Self-reliant and never in need of assistance
  • Docile, obedient and submissive
  • Uncomplaining

While some may argue that these characteristics are positive, the truth is that no one can be expected to be a model anything all the time — and that includes Asian Americans. This racial group includes a diverse spectrum of individuals, each with their own interests, values and experiences.

The Model Minority Myth’s Negative Effects on Asian American Mental Health

The model minority idea arose in the 1960s, directly comparing African Americans in a disparaging way to the “model” Asian minorities. The myth continues today, creating racial divides and an often inescapable pressure to live up to unrealistic standards.

Those who internalize the desire to be a model minority, especially later-generation Asian-Americans, often feel obligated to succeed. This pressure affects mental health and well-being. Even those who recognize the model minority stereotype as a myth may still feel pressure from their family or communities to live up to this ideal. Supposedly positive stereotyping can ultimately be just as destructive to a person’s mental and emotional health as negative stereotyping.

Sadly, cultural taboos against seeking mental health care mean Asian Americans are less likely to get help when they need it. In fact, one study showed that nearly 70% of Asians have never received therapy, while the rates for other ethnic groups fall between 30% to 50%.

Many individuals within this culture create a wall between their public lives and their inner turmoil. They fear not living up to the high ideal of the model minority and becoming an object of gossip. As a result, these individuals may resort to harmful coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs and unsafe sexual behaviors.

Help Is Available at Gateway Foundation

As insensitive and dangerous racial stereotypes continue to come to light, more and more people are getting the help they need. At Gateway Foundation, two of our core values are diversity and inclusion. We create addiction treatment programs designed to meet patients’ individual needs and address their unique backgrounds.

If you need help, there’s no need to suffer in silence. Contact us today.

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