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Why South Asians are Still Least Likely To Seek Mental Health Services?

Why South Asians are Still Least Likely To Seek Mental Health Services?

Why South Asians Are Still Least Likely To Seek Mental Health Services

Mental health has consistently been the forgotten factor of wellness in all societies, but sadly the South Asian/Asian community struggles the most as we are the least likely to engage in services for our mental well-being. However, it’s no surprise considering how our parents react to mental health concerns with much stigma.  In an episode of the ‘Patriot Act’, Hasan Minhaj accurately joked “Mental health isn’t a thing for us…  One time I told my dad I was feeling sad and he was like, drink water and pray.”

One in five Americans suffers from mental illness. 2020 reports indicate that accounts for 52.9 million (21%) adults aged 18 or older, 21% of the population, and 13.9% are Asian Americans (approx. over 7 million people). Only 20% of Asians with mental health concerns actually seek services which is a tragedy. A desi parent’s answer to mental health includes eating fruit, drinking chai, taking a walk, putting some Vicks VapoRub on it, pray, pray, and pray some more, and of course, “things will be better when you’re married.” Obviously, these aren’t the cure-all our parents hope it to be, because facing the realities of mental health is a challenge they may never be able to overcome due to their own fears, embarrassment, shame, and just plain ignorance on the matter.

Why should we care?

Studies have found that one in five South Asians reports experiencing a mood or anxiety disorder within their lifetime and South Asian American youths were found to be at a greater risk of suicide than other minorities (Masoud, Okazaki, and Takeuchi, 2009). One UK study found significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety in middle-aged Pakistani men and older Indian and Pakistani women compared to similarly aged Caucasians ( Weich et. al., 2004). Research has also revealed that South Asian immigrant women have a high susceptibility to engage in self-harm and be diagnosed with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and eating disorders (Rehman, 2007).

Social issues such as assimilation, acculturation, socioeconomic status, education level, and more are factors that affect the level of risk for mental health concerns as well as how we deal with them. One study has found that South Asians, especially foreign-born individuals, perceive mental illness through a social or family-based framework such as understanding depression as a result of poor social support rather than a biological aspect of a serotonin imbalance (Karasz, et. al., 2019). However, individuals with a greater degree of acculturation tend to accept a more Western view which is more individualistic and focuses on a biological model (Karasz, et. al., 2019). 

What’s next?

Research only further highlights how deeply affected the South Asian population is and how little is done to help those struggling. However, social media has allowed the next generation of South Asians to find acceptance and normalize their immigrant experience as well as understand their own mental health. Education, exposure, and access are a few benefits we have to help not only understand ourselves but also try to heal ourselves.

There are many influencers advocating for mental health and even therapists and psychologists using their social media to help the South Asian community recognize their own struggles with empathy and recommendations. Two such influencers are Sanam Naran, a psychologist and founder of the Conscious Psychologist, and Divija Bhasin, a therapist and founder of The Friendly Couch.

Others to follow include Dr. Tina Mistry, a clinical psychologist in Birmingham, the UK who is also the founder of The Brown Therapist Network. Mamta Saha is a psychologist who uses her powers for good in the media and she’s a talent who’s done it all from TEDx talks to podcasts! There’s also Suno Therapy, a platform founded by Dr. Pavna K. Sodhi, which seeks to provide culturally competent care to the BIPOC community, and Expert by Experience, a UK-based mental health platform focused on creating a safe space for healing for the South Asian community. These are all just a few mental health-related sources that can be easily accessed online. Social media has allowed South Asian youth to have the courage to reach out for help.

Locally, we have some organizations worth noting that support mental health and domestic abuse

Mann Mukti

Mann Mukti’s mission is to encourage an open and healthy dialogue about mental health concerns in the South Asian diaspora. They attempt to remove the stigma, improve awareness, and promote self-care with their storytelling platform. They highlight different types of illnesses and the pressure of our community to “sweep it under the rug.” Mann Mukti emphasizes social media and digital connections for those who need them and hosts events to build a community for South Asians.


Sakhi for South Asian Women represents the South Asian diaspora in a survivor-led movement for gender justice and survivors of violence. Sakhi works to provide direct services, advocacy and organizing, technical assistance, and community outreach. In their work to support domestic violence survivors, they also advocate and connect South Asian women to mental health supports

South Asian Therapists 


Karasz A, Gany F, Escobar J, Flores C, Prasad L, Inman A, Kalasapudi V, Kosi R, Murthy M, Leng J, Diwan S. Mental Health and Stress Among South Asians. J Immigr Minor Health. 2019 Aug;21(Suppl 1):7-14. doi: 10.1007/s10903-016-0501-4. PMID: 27848078; PMCID: PMC5643212.

Masood, N., Okazaki, S. and Takeuchi, D.T. (2009). Gender, family, and community correlates of mental health in South Asian Americans. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(3), 265.

Rehman, T. (2007). Social stigma, cultural constraints, or poor policies: Examining the Pakistani Muslim female population in the United States and unequal access to professional mental health services. Research in Education31, 95-130.

 Weich S, Nazroo J, Sproston K, et al. Common mental disorders and ethnicity in England: The EMPIRIC study. Psychol med. 2004 Nov;34(8):1543–1551. 

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