Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Ethnic Identity and Acculturative Stress as Mediators of Depression in Students of Asian Descent

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Ethnic Identity and Acculturative Stress as Mediators of Depression in Students of Asian Descent

Article excerpt

This study underscored the importance of addressing the well-being of college students of Asian descent, because these students had higher rates of depression and lower positive feelings about their ethnic group compared with students of European descent, as measured by the Affirmation subscale of the Ethnic Identity Scale. Affirmation mediated the depression difference between these groups. Within the Asian group, affirmation and depression were inversely correlated, and this relationship was mediated by acculturative stress.

Keywords: depression, ethnic identity, acculturative stress, students of Asian descent


College can be a challenging time, and college students may experience stress as a result of academic pressure, relationships, family expectations, financial pressure, and identity development (Crocker & Luhtanen, 2003; Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2004; McCarthy, Fouladi, Juncker, & Matheny, 2006). Researchers have found that ethnic minority students in a college setting often experience more stress than do White students (Hwang & Ting, 2008; Wei et al., 2010). There are many possible reasons for this finding. Ethnic minority students often find themselves in predominantly White classrooms and social contexts, maybe for the first time in their lives (Alvarez, Blume, Cervantes, & Thomas, 2009; Hwang & Ting, 2008). Additional challenges include being the first of their family to attend higher education (Lippincott & German, 2007) and cultural conflicts stemming from increased familial and cultural obligations (Thomas & Schwarzbaum, 2006; Thomason, 1999). Furthermore, ethnic minority students may be more likely to come from a culture that emphasizes respect for authority figures, which can lead to a reduced likelihood of these students speaking in class and to their professors viewing them as disengaged (McGregor, 2006).

One ethnic group that has received relatively little research attention is students of Asian descent. The reality of educational and economic inequality has been minimized for Asian individuals in the United States (Ancheta, 1998), perhaps because Asians are often perceived as attaining economic and academic success in the United States and viewed as a model minority (Wong & Halgin, 2006). The possible effects on Asians of difficulties due to ethnic minority status, cultural stereotypes, or racism have not received a great deal of attention. It is particularly important that we understand the impact of these challenges on Asian students during the college years, because this is an intense period of development, change, and challenge in many young adults' lives.

Rates of depression among U.S. college students of Asian descent have been found to be equal to or greater than the rates of depression among U.S. college students of European descent (Castro & Rice, 2003; C. B. Gee, 2004; Ying, 1988; Young, Fang, & Zisook, 2010). In multiple studies, adolescents and college students of Asian descent have reported more mental health problems, such as depression, than their counterparts of European descent (Castro & Rice, 2003; C. B. Gee, 2004; Okazaki, 1997; Schoen et al., 1997; Siegel, Aneshensel, Taub, Cantwell, & Driscoll, 1998; Yoon & Lau, 2008, Young et al., 2010). Additionally, a study by Kearney, Draper, and Baron (2005) found that among a nationwide sample of college students seeking counseling, those of Asian descent reported the highest levels of psychological distress among all racial/ethnic groups. Researchers have found that one factor that can be related to ethnic minority college students experiencing higher levels of positive adjustment and well-being in the face of challenges such as those described here is their ability to successfully negotiate their ethnic identity (Phinney & Alipuria, 1990; Umana-Taylor Shin, 2007; Umana-Taylor & Updegraff, 2007). Phinney (1996, 2003) defined ethnic identity as a multidimensional construct that involves an individual's sense of self as it relates to being a member of an ethnic group. …

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