“Gaman” is engraved on a stone found in Japantown (Nihonmachi) in San Jose. It is followed by the phrase “kodomo no tame ni” (for the sake of the children). (RYOKO OHNISHI/Rafu Shimpo))


Gaman. The art of bearing the unbearable. In Japanese culture, it is seen as a virtue extolling the bearer’s patience and dignity.

Japanese Americans were forced to gaman during the unjust internment during WWII and now they are forced to gaman (endure) again. As anti-Asian discrimination rises to record levels in the United States, and global issues weigh heavily on the minds of the populace, the act of silently bearing the unbearable alone may be too much.

Serious mental illness within the Asian American community is on the rise. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, serious mental illness rose from 2.9 percent of the AAPI population aged 18-25 to 5.6 percent between 2008 and 2018. From 2015 to 2018, AAPI youths between 12-17 years of age also saw an increase in major depressive episodes from 10 percent to 13.6 percent.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, suicide was the leading cause of death for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders aged 15 to 24 in 2019. Despite this, Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than whites, according to data collected by the National Latino and Asian American Study.

So what is causing the decline in the mental health of the AAPI community? In a study conducted pre-pandemic by The University of Maryland School of Public Health, four major themes emerged:

• Discrimination due to race or culture. Participants shared that discrimination was a significant source of stress, particularly during high school. This has been exacerbated by the recent increase in anti-Asian discrimination.

• Parental pressure. Participants reported that their parents’ expectations for them to succeed academically were a source of increased stress.

• Maintaining cultural values. Participants found difficulty balancing their native culture with their adopted culture. In addition, participants reported difficulty in maintaining communication with previous generations.

• Familial obligations. The care required by older generations placed a significant strain on the participants. This included transportation, translation, and elderly care.

But why aren’t Asian Americans seeking professional help? The University of Maryland’s study highlighted six deterrents that prevented participants from seeking help for their mental health issues:

• Stigma towards mental illness. Negative perceptions of those suffering from mental health problems or those seeking help can prevent many Asian Americans from seeking support.

• Lack of awareness. Many Asian Americans undervalue or do not understand mental well-being. Others are unaware of the seriousness of the mental health problems they experience.

• Worrying parents. Many participants reported avoiding talking with family members about mental health problems to prevent concerns and worry.

• Lack of linguistically and culturally appropriate care. Language and cultural barriers make access to mental health care difficult for some Asian Americans.

• Parental lack of awareness. Parents may be unaware of what constitutes a mental health issue or may have difficulty communicating mental health topics with their children.

• Cost. Many participants did not want to pay for mental health services. Others noted that even free services would be avoided due to stigma.

As the number of anti-Asian hate incidents increases, so too does the likelihood of mental health decline in the AAPI community. Community members need to be aware of available community mental health resources. Below is a list of a few resources for victims of hate and discrimination and those in need of mental health assistance.

Resources for Victims of Anti-AAPI Discrimination:

Bay Area – South Bay – Central Coast:

Asian Health Services
101 8th St. Suite 100, Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 735-3170

Border Region:

Catalyst of San Diego and Imperial Counties
5060 Shoreham Pl. Suite 350, San Diego, CA 92122
(858) 875-3332

Los Angeles County:

Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council dba Asian American Pacific Islander Equity Alliance (AAPI Equity Alliance)
905 E. 8th St., Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 239-0300

Orange County – Inland Empire:

Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA)
12912 Brookhurst St., Suite 410, Garden Grove, CA 92840
(714) 636-9095

Northern California – San Joaquin Valley:

Sierra Health Foundation: Center for Health Program Management
1321 Garden Hwy., Sacramento, CA 95833
(916) 922-4755 ext. 3300

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