Defining mental illness and accessing mental health services: perspectives of Asian Canadians

Can J Commun Ment Health. Spring 2000;19(1):143-59. doi: 10.7870/cjcmh-2000-0008.


Asian Canadians consistently underutilize mainstream mental health services. This study investigates how the definition and meaning of mental illness relates to barriers Asian Canadians find in accessing mental health services. Personal interviews were conducted with 60 Asian Canadians in a northern community in the province of British Columbia. Content analyses revealed six themes that defined a mental health problem: (a) feeling a lack of purpose in life, (b) feeling lonely, (c) difficulties understanding and dealing with a new environment, (d) high anxiety levels, (e) descriptions of mental health problems as somatic illnesses, and (f) perceptions of mental illness as serious and potentially not treatable. It was also found that poor English language ability and a lack of understanding of mainstream culture were major barriers to accessing mental health facilities. Findings of this study provided valuable insights concerning Asian immigrants' hesitancy accessing and utilizing mainstream mental health facilities. The many poignant personal anecdotes illustrate that the migration and adaptation processes can be painful and full of anguish. Unless their experiences are better understood and accepted, many Asian Canadians will likely remain outside of the available mainstream mental health facilities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • British Columbia / epidemiology
  • Communication Barriers
  • Ethnicity / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Social Support