Boston Korea: More Hardships Experienced by Children of Immigrants Than By 1st-Generation

4 stressors contributing to poor mental health in Asian American students

BUSSW Chair of Social Research and Associate Professor Hyeouk Chris Hahm, Ph.D.

Statistically, Asian American adolescents experience depression and anxiety more commonly than white, Latinx, and African American teens. Asian Americans are also among the least likely to ask for help, says Hyeouk Chris Hahm, Ph.D., BU School of Social Work associate professor and chair of social research.

According to Dr. Hahm, the top four stressors – or “traps” – that contribute to high rates of mental illness and suicidality in Asian American students are:

  1. Inner voice trap (internalized perfectionism): Asian American students worry that they will not meet high expectations to perform well.  This tendency is pervasive regardless of how successful they are. 

  2. Family trap (overburdened by family/parents): “Parents have unrealistic expectations of what their children can achieve. They think their children always have to study,” says Dr. Hahm. Children are burdened by parents’ over-emphasis on success and are consistently reminded of the financial sacrifices parents have made in their upbringing and education. Parents say, I am investing so much money in you, you need to deliver a good outcome.

  3. Social trap: Many Asian American students worry about fitting in at school and in social cliques. In addition to cultural differences, Asian students are often confronted with Western beauty standards, like blonde hair and blue eyes, that don’t reflect the appearance of Asian American students. Body image issues are common.

  4.  Racial trap: Asian American students may be and feel misunderstood, which leads to stress. These students experience micro-agressions and frequently deal with covert and insidious racial comments from peers and teachers. Because these comments are downplayed and indirect, students are left feeling hurt and may experience self-doubt. Despite their hard work, they feel like a member of “an invisible minority”

To address these complex issues, we need complex solutions. We also need society to understand the struggles of immigrant children and their parents. 

Immigrant parents often suffer from mental and physical health issues, which are compounded by the absence of a strong support network, language barriers, and occupational stress. These hardships cut across all socioeconomic groups, and the stress that parents experience is often transmitted to their children. Many parents don’t realize that they’re causing damage.

Recently in Newton, Mass., 160 parents of Asian American students crowded into a library for a presentation by Dr. Hahm on the social and emotional stressors associated with depression, anxiety and suicidal feelings in Asian American youth. “So many parents came because they are determined to learn how to better understand what their children are going through,” says Dr. Hahm. “They are eager to raise their children to be emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy.” 

While parents can’t fix problems like systemic racism and micro-aggressions, there is a lot they can do to ease the burden.

Dr. Hyeouk Chris Hahm is the founder of Asian Women’s Action for Resilience and Empowerment (AWARE) lab and chair, and an associate professor at Boston University School of Social Work.

To read the original article (in Korean) in Boston Korea, go to