In this paper I will discuss examine how the unique cultural aspects of Korean-Americans and acculturation contribute to the high rates of depression and suicide ideation, using John Berry’s Four-Cell Typology as a model. I will also discuss how their culture influences views on mental health, and how these views determine their attitudes toward seeking treatment and mental well-being.
Psychological adjustment to acculturation is a key factor for Korean-Americans. Coming from a uniquely strong patriarchal and collectivist society, Koreans have deep religious roots in Confucianism that emphasizes obligation to family and society. It is no wonder then, that the process of acculturating into the individualistic, multi-cultural patchwork of America would be a variable in the high rates of depression and suicide ideation of this under-represented population.
Framework of Korean-American Culture and Issues of Acculturation
Koreans are the third largest and fastest growing minority populations in the United States. They are mainly middle to upper middle class, well-educated individuals who are strongly defined by their native culture. This population is defined by three groups: first generation- which are people born in Korea to Korean parents, who have immigrated and reside in the United States, and are either American citizens or have obtained permanent status. A very small part of this population is made up of college-age young adults who have student visas who may or may not have established family or social support. The second generation is comprised of individuals born in the United States to first generation Korean parents. There is a third group, who are individuals who have been in the United States for generations (the first Korean immigrants began arriving in Hawaii and San Francisco around 1903) and have completely assimilated.
Many Korean families that immigrate do so out of necessity because one or both parents’ jobs require it. They are often not bilingual, which creates difficulty especially when put in business and social situations. They tend to settle in metropolitan areas where there are Korean communities where there is social support from other Koreans. Sometimes their length of stay is temporary, and adults may avoid assimilating because they feel the time does not warrant it. Many others immigrate and open businesses for the economic opportunities within these established communities.
Many Koreans follow Confucianism, which is a philosophy that teaches a system of ethics and behaviors with the emphasis on one’s obligatory duties to each other based on their relationships. Family is the core of the Korean culture that focuses on filial piety, honor, duty and respect for elders. Children are expected to honor and obey their parents. Even a father, who is the most respected member of a household, will put his own parent’s wishes and needs first before his own wife and children.