Youth Column- Thriving among challenges: Navigating mental health among South Asian youth

Kavya Bhatia

The more that we explore the murky ground of the South Asian American adolescent experience, the more apparent it becomes that the path through is a long and meandering one – subject to a background of cultural, social, and individual factors of an often dense and overwhelming nature. The South Asian community is a combination of many distinct people from around the world, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iran, and Afghanistan, and hundreds of cultures contained within. Along with the brilliance of this vibrant heritage comes an equally complex set of traditions, values, and beliefs. But the perfect paradise of shimmering colors hides a deeper and darker reality – a reality that is subject to the struggle for mental wellness within. The path for the diaspora of South Asians is one of strength, strength, and grit. For more than 44 million people living outside the homeland, the struggle for an opportunity to live well has been a long and arduous terrain, defined by the trials and tribulations faced both inside and outside, and of all the trials of mental health, perhaps few are as insidious or as subtle as those of the mind.

South Asian American youth are buffeted by conflicting cultural expectations, struggling to reconcile the values and expectations of their parents’ upbringing and their parents’ homeland with their life in the US. Overall, they have higher expectations for themselves, their parents, their siblings, and life in general. Expectations are higher than ever, yet emotional support from parents has declined, especially for their psychosocial needs. The stress of achieving academic and professional success, honoring family, professional, and social norms, and living up to others’ expectations, takes a deep toll on South Asian American youths’ emotional wellbeing. Research indicates that mental health disorders, especially depression and anxiety, are more prevalent in South Asian immigrants in North America than in their non-immigrant South Asian counterparts. In Canada, for instance, the lifetime prevalence of diagnosed anxiety disorders and life stress is estimated to be significantly higher among South Asian immigrants compared with Canadian-born South Asian individuals (sample size: 3,490; 3.4% versus 1.9%). Assimilative stress, social isolation and stigma around mental illness Contributions of acculturative stress have been well-demonstrated in accelerating mental health issues among South Asian American youth. In their effort to straddle both their Indian roots and American reality, they are often torn between the two worlds, sometimes facing pressure to assimilate and conform to Western expectations. This lack of fit can lead to alienation and isolation that in turn aggravate mental health issues.

Furthermore, the concept of “me time” or self-care is often viewed as selfish within South Asian culture, leading many individuals to neglect their mental health needs in favor of fulfilling familial obligations. This reluctance to prioritize self-care can have detrimental effects on their overall well-being, leading to burnout, depression, and anxiety. Depression, in particular, is a prevalent issue among South Asian American youth. Factors such as gender roles, social stigma, and lack of access to culturally competent mental health care can prevent individuals from seeking help or receiving adequate treatment. Many South Asian American youth struggle in silence, unable to articulate their feelings or ask for help due to cultural barriers and societal expectations.

However, amidst the struggles and challenges, there is hope. The South Asian American community is resilient and resourceful, drawing strength from its rich cultural heritage and traditions. The Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text revered by millions, offers timeless wisdom and guidance for navigating life’s challenges. Its teachings on self-awareness, mindfulness, and resilience resonate deeply with many South Asian American youth, providing them with a sense of purpose and direction in times of uncertainty.

Moreover, figures like Jay Shetty have emerged as influential voices within the South Asian American community, advocating for mental health awareness and self-care. Through his podcast, “On Purpose with Jay Shetty,” Shetty has inspired millions to embrace a more positive and holistic approach to mental well-being. His message of compassion, mindfulness, and personal growth has resonated with countless individuals, empowering them to take control of their mental health and live authentically. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of mental health within the South Asian American community. Organizations and community groups have emerged to provide support, resources, and advocacy for those struggling with mental health issues. By fostering a culture of openness, acceptance, and self-care, the South Asian American community is breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness and paving the way for a brighter and more resilient future.

In conclusion, the mental health struggles of South Asian American youth are complex and multifaceted, rooted in a myriad of cultural, societal, and personal factors. Acculturative stress, social stigma, and lack of access to culturally competent care are just some of the challenges they face. However, amidst the struggles, there is hope. With the guidance of ancient wisdom and the support of contemporary role models, the South Asian American community is finding ways to prioritize mental well-being and thrive in a multicultural society. By embracing a more holistic approach to health and wellness, they are forging a path toward a brighter and more resilient future for generations to come.


(The views expressed here are solely those of the author)



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