Depression in Asian American Seniors and the Impact of Stigma
A recent article by the Huffington Post discusses the high rates of depression and suicide in Asian American seniors and that this population is much less likely than white individuals to seek mental health services. This is due in part to the stigma of mental health in Asian communities. In addition, there are cultural differences in terms of how these seniors might present to clinics; instead of more traditional feelings of sadness and worthlessness, Asian American seniors are more likely to endorse somatic symptoms such as having difficulty sleeping or experiencing stomach aches.
While not part of the article, Asian American seniors may be more likely to present to their family physician for their problems, which when coupled with the more somatic symptoms, can lead to misdiagnosis of the seniors' problems.
As discussed in the article, there are specific challenges when working with Asian American seniors given their unique experiences. Asian American seniors who are immigrants are particularly at risk for feeling lonely and isolated given limited social support and many of them experienced traumas prior to moving to the United States (such as escaping the Cambodian Kmer Rouge regime).
Another challenge is the concept of 'losing face,' or losing respect of others and bringing shame to the family, can be important for Asian American seniors and so asking for help may not come easily. There are also potential language barriers that make it challenging for providers to establish positive relationships and facilitate open communication, particularly when an interpreter needs to be used.
One final challenge, not discussed in the article is the model minority myth, which is the perception that certain groups of individuals (often Asian Americans) do better than other groups in terms of socioeconomic status. This myth can further stigmatize those individuals who do not live up to these false standards with additional feelings of shame and lowered self-worth.
As the article states, it is important for providers to be aware about the unique challenges facing Asian American seniors, in addition to other high risk groups. Providing culturally competent care needs to be a priority for all mental health providers as well providers providing medical care.
Please see a mental health professional in your area if you are feeling depressed and/or suicidal. You can call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), which is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number that has access to interpreters in over 150 languages, or if it is an emergency, 911.
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