Many Asian Americans may be falling through mental health gaps

When 39-year-old Samuel Kim of Mableton found licensed professional counselor Soo Kim at The Center for Pan-Asian Community Services in Peachtree Corners after decades of struggling with depression, he says, it felt like a breakthrough.

"She’s willing to listen to you, every word," he says. "That’s something that I was not able to find anywhere else."

Because Soo Kim is fluent in Korean, which allowed Samuel, who immigrated to the US from Korea with his parents when he was 13, to feel heard in a way, he says, had not felt before.

"She helped me in dealing with a lot of things, mainly by trying to listen to what I was trying to say, because I’m a very reserved person," Kim says. "I don’t really speak much. I’ll be like, that’s since I came to America, for some reason."

Still, Soo Kim worries many young Asian Americans struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders are not getting help, because of language or cultural barriers and the stigma that often surrounds mental health.

"They stay home, they never go out, and they never get treatment because (their) family, they don’t know what to do," she says.

And, Kim says, some Asian parents may be reluctant to admit their teen or young adult is struggling and needs help.

"They feel ashamed to have somebody in their family members, somebody who has a mental health, or especially substance abuse issues that they want to hide them," she says.

But, a newer patient, who asked that we not show her face, says her mom, who was born in Korea, helped her find help for her depression.

"I’ve been dealing with this, and I’ve been struggling, just by myself, trying to work and survive, and I barely had time to find help," she says. "And when I did try to find help, it was kind of shooting in the dark."

Talking to a professional, she says, is helping her find her way forward.

"I’m doing things a lot differently," she says. "So, it takes a lot of stress off my plate, for one. And I have someone there to help me."