Current Sociopolitical Barriers

Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the United States today. Over the past few decades there have been well-documented Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continue to be stereotyped, prejudiced and marginalized by the broader society. Asian Americans are facing various challenges and barriers in all micro (individual), meso (family and friends), and macro (community and political) level.  Below are some of the main barriers that negatively contribute to human development in Asian Americans.

Linguistic Barriers:

According to the 2010 Census Bureau population estimate (U.S. Census Burean, 2010), there are 17.3 million Asian Americans living in the United States. Asian Americans comprise 5.6% of the U.S. population. However, there are a large percentage of people who speak a language other than English. Data showed that a significantly high proportion of Asian American students—79 percent—speak a language other than Standard English at home. 55% of Vietnamese, 46% of Chinese, 22% of Filipinos, and 22% of Asian Indians are not fluent in English. Language barrier is one of the main reasons for stress, and it increases people’s risk of experiencing negative emotional responses such as anxiety, fear and embarrassment (Kim & Mattila, 2011). Studies have shown that language barrier imposes challenge for people to access health care service (Yeo, 2004) and to achieve life satisfaction as well (Kim & Mattila, 2011).

(Data retrieved from U.S. Census Bureau, 2010)

Barriers to Help-Seeking:

Asian Americans have been found to be more resistant to seek help from mental health services. In fact, Asian Americans could have a greater need for these services because of their experiences with racism and discrimination (Kim, Ng, & Ahn, 2005). The problem of underutilization of mental health services by Asian Americans can be understood in terms of several barriers. These barriers include beliefs about causes of mental illness, stigma, unfamiliarity with mental health services, lack of awareness about available services, and inability to access services due to economic realities (Leong & Lau, 2011; Tung & Chen, 2011). Asian Americans typically see psychotherapy as a foreign concept (Sue & Sue, 2008). They traditionally view seeking help for mental health wellness is shameful and disgraceful. Since the “face” and family reputation is important in Asian culture, they tend to rely on family resources to cope with emotional problems rather than seek help from outside resources. As a result, compares to other ethnic groups, Asian Americans show underutilization in help-seeking from mental health services, and show the longest delays in seeking professional mental health care (Lin et al., 1982).

Racism and Discrimination:

Both historical and contemporary evidence indicated that Asian American have been the target of racism and discrimination. In the last 20 years or so has seen Asian Americans become the fastest-growing targets for hate crimes and violence. Violence against Asian Americans continues to occur throughout the history. Anti-Asian racism and discrimination occurs in various settings such as in school, sport game, and workplace. Additionally, people are consciously or unconsciously perceive Asian American as “perpetual foreigners” (Wu, 2002) or “Asian” rather than “American”. This leads to more serious Anti-Asian problems like hate crimes committed against Asian Americans.


Stereotypes are negative or positive beliefs or labels that are associated with different social group. There are a number of positive stereotypes associated with Asian Americans. The term “model minority” has been used to describe Asian Americans since the mid-1960s. Many see Asian as high educated, intelligent, reserved and hardworking. The label of “model minority” appears to place positive values to Asian Americans. In fact, research has shown that positive stereotypes can have negative effects (Gupta, Szymanski, & Leong, 2011). The “model minority” stereotype places extreme pressure on Asian Americans to meet these high expectations and standards. Failure to meet these criteria can lead to feeling of self-doubt and worthlessness. It puts Asian Americans in a higher risk of having psychological problems and even suicide thoughts (Kim & Park, 2008). Even more, the “model minority” stereotype encourages Asian Americans to ignore and self-adjust mental health concerns when they’re facing psychological difficulties (Gupta, Szymanski, & Leong, 2011). It blocks their desire to seek help, and results in underutilization of mental health services.


Gupta, A., Szymanski, D. M., & Leong, F. L. (2011). The “model minority myth”: Internalized racialism of positive stereotypes as correlates of psychological distress, and attitudes toward help-seeking. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 2(2), 101-114.

Kim, B. K., Ng, G. F., & Ahn, A. J. (2005). Effects of Client Expectation for Counseling Success, Client — Counselor Worldview Match, and Client Adherence to Asian and European American Cultural Values on Counseling Process With Asian Americans. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(1), 67-76.

Kim, B. S., & Park, Y. S. (2008). East and Southeast Asian Americans. In G. Mcauliffe (Ed.), Culturally alert counseling: A comprehensive introduction (pp. 189–219). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kim, E.E.K., & Mattila, A. S. (2011). The Impact of Language Barrier & Cultural Differences on Restaurant Experiences: A Grounded Theory Approach. Scholarworks, 34(2), 40-48.

Leong, F. T. L., & Lau, A, S. L. (2011). Barriers to Providing Effective Mental Health Services to Asian Americans. Mental Health Services Research, 3(4), 201-214.

Lin, K. M., Inui, T. S., Kleinman, A. M., & Womack, W. M. (1982). Sociocultural determinants of help-seeking behavior of patients with mental illness. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 170(2), 78–85.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (5th ed.). New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Wu, F.H. (2002) Asian Americans and the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome. Civil Rights Journal, 6, 31-37.

Yeo, S. (2004). Language Barriers and Access to Care. Annu Rev Nurs Res., 22, 59-73.

This post was contributed by Min.

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