Religious Involvement Effects on Mental Health in Chinese Americans

Article excerpt

Abstract

Faith has been shown to serve a protective role in the mental health of African Americans and European Americans. However, little research has examined whether any association exists in Asian Americans. Using the National Latino and Asian American Study dataset, we examined the effect of religious attendance on the mental health of Asian Americans in the United States. The present study focused on Chinese Americans because they are the largest Asian American group. The results revealed that almost 80% of the respondents were foreign-born and that their English proficiency had a positive association with their self-rated mental health. Being male correlated significantly to higher levels of mental health self-rating. After controlling for known predictive variables, such as demographics, cultural and immigration variables, more frequent religious attendance significantly predicted higher self-rating of mental health. These findings suggest that faith may have a unique protective role in Chinese Americans' mental health.

Keywords: Mental health, Religious attendance, Religious involvement, Chinese Americans, Self-rating, NLAAS

1. Introduction

The population of Chinese Americans consists of immigrant descendants or new immigrants from various regions in Asia and other parts of the world. In the 19th century, the first major influx of Chinese arrived in the United States (US). This first group, comprising mostly farmers, emigrated from Southern China to help build US railroads (Chen, 1940). After the railroads were built, however, some laborers were forced out of the US and the remaining population experienced various degrees of discrimination, including violence and the denial of citizenship.

Responding to an anti-Chinese lobby, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Law in 1882 to ban the Chinese labor force (Chan, 1991). During the 20th century, the population of Chinese Americans increased to three million which was slightly more than the number of Filipino Americans (US Census, 2004). The numbers of each group were similar, notwithstanding the much larger population of China, because of the long-term exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

Growing empirical evidence suggests that faith factors (factors pertaining to religiousness and spirituality) are a part of cultural identity and a meaning-making framework (Cohen and Hill, 2007), which can function as a protective factor for mental health (Pargament, Magyar-Russell, and Murray-Swank, 2005) or as a resource in coping with difficult issues (e.g., Coruh, Ayele, Pugh, and Mulligan, 2005; Fiala, Bjorck, and Gorsuch, 2002; Galanter, 2006; George, Ellison, and Larson, 2002; Koenig, McCullough, and Larson, 2001; Pargament, 1997; Pargament, Koenig, and Perez, 2000; Powell, Shahabi, and Thoresen, 2003; Smith, McCullough, and Poll, 2003; Townsend, Kladder, Ayele, and Mulligan, 2002). Most studies have drawn on evidence of faith and mental health from mainstream populations (e.g., European or African Americans holding Judeo-Christian faiths) with little attention to Asian Americans. This study examines Chinese Americans' religious practices and their effects on mental health. We focus on Chinese Americans because they are not only a diverse and unique population, but also the largest group of Asian Americans.

1.1 The diverse faith held by Chinese Americans

The lack of attention to the Asian American faiths has produced a significant gap in literature in the face of the rapid growth of the Asian American population (Ai, Bjorck, Huang, and Appel, in press; Passel and Cohn, 2008). Chinese Americans, like any other Americans, are of diverse religious and spiritual faiths (Ai et al., in press). Besides Asian-born beliefs, the faiths of Chinese Americans include mainstream religion and spirituality (i.e., Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). Yang (1999) suggested that one third of Chinese Americans are Christians, a much higher percentage than that of Chinese living in Asia. …