Stress Experienced by South Asian Adolescents due to Acculturative Stress- An Interview With Pratyusha Tummala-Narra

South Asian adolescents have to deal with the stress of adjusting in to a different culture, where they may face racism because of what they look like. even though the population of south Asians has been increasing in the united states of america, not much research has been done to study the stress experienced by south Asian adolescents due to acculturative stress. The research ”South Asian adolescents’ experiences of acculturative stress and coping.” by Pratyusha Tummala-Narra, Anita Deshpande, and Jasleen Kaur looks at their experience, challenges faced because of acculturation, the stress they experience because of cultural differences, and how they cope with the stress.

Could you talk about about what the research is about for our audience who may be learning about it for the first time?

My research focuses on three broad areas: immigration, mental health and trauma, and cultural competence in psychotherapy. More specifically, I conduct research with South Asian Americans, examining both first and second generation’s experiences of cultural adjustment, gender, race and racism, interpersonal violence, and mental health.

What got you interested in this research?

I became interested in this research primarily through my training as a clinical psychologist. As an Indian American, raised primarily in the U.S., I had been long aware of the ways in which people within South Asian communities tend not to address mental health problems or interpersonal violence. There is a great deal of silence around these issues, even though they affect many South Asian individuals and families. Often the avoidance of discussing and addressing these problems leads to social isolation. I wanted to examine factors contributing to psychological distress and recovery through research.  Although psychological research with South Asians has been expanding over the past decade, there are significant gaps in research that need to be filled in order to better understand mental health and psychological adjustment of South Asians in the U.S.

Why do you think the stress levels faced by South Asian adolescents and how they cope with it has not been researched as much?

South Asians, like other Asian Americans, are viewed by others and at times view themselves as model minorities. While this may be perceived to be a positive stereotype, in fact, it contributes to a perception that South Asian adolescents and adults have adequate resources and that they don’t experience problems that warrant help. The myth of the model minority notion contributes to the view that research concerning mental health among South Asian adolescents is not as urgently needed as with other groups. There is also a need within psychology for more South Asians in academic and clinical settings who can expand research in these areas.

What kind of acculturative stress do you think that south Asian adolescents have to deal with?

South Asian adolescents cope with a variety of different stressors, such as navigating multiple cultural contexts (at home, school, work, neighborhood, ethnic or religious community), conflicts with parents, siblings, and extended family concerning degree of autonomy, adopting mainstream U.S. culture, and dating, and facing racism and bullying outside the home. Images of South Asians as passive, exotic, terrorists, and as outsider/foreigner have negative impact on South Asian adolescents’ sense of belonging in the U.S. Some South Asian adolescents are also coping with marginalization within their ethnic and/or religious communities, particularly that related to sexism, homophobia, able-ism, and class-ism. They also face the burden of the model minority stereotype, often experiencing stress when they feel that they cannot live up to the stereotype (e.g., academic excellence, certain level of financial success).

How do you think that the South Asian adolescents deal with the acculturative stress?

South Asian adolescents approach acculturative stress in different ways. Some adolescents are able to talk with their parents and siblings about the stress that they face, while others feel that they would burden their parents if they were to share their distress. Unfortunately, with the latter group, they tend to feel more disconnected from their parents and family members. Often, South Asian adolescents share their concerns with friends who are of a similar ethnic and/or religious background.

Why do you think that South Asian adolescents are less likely to go to therapists?

There is a stigma within South Asian communities regarding seeking help from a therapist, as disclosing personal problems to anyone outside the home is not common. While there is growing awareness in many communities about the importance of seeking help to cope with emotional or psychological distress, many South Asians seek help after the problem has reached crisis level.  There is little education within South Asian communities regarding the benefits of psychotherapy.

Do you think it might be easier for South Asian adolescents to adjust when they have been more in this country over moving here at a later point in their life?

There are certainly different experiences in adjusting to the U.S. when adolescents emigrate from South Asia at an earlier vs. later age. South Asians arriving later may have more difficulty with adjusting to a new language and to new cultural norms, whereas those arriving in early childhood are more likely to acculturate to language and culture more quickly. Those arriving later may also have the benefit of feeling more connected to the country of origin and heritage culture when compared with those born in the U.S. or arriving as young children to the U.S.

What steps do you think should be taken to help South Asian adolescents to help them deal with the stress?

It would be helpful to have more outreach and education concerning mental health and trauma within the South Asian communities in the U.S. Many adolescents coping with stress and trauma within the home and outside the home need access to resources such as crisis intervention, psychotherapy, and support groups. It would also help to have better partnerships between families/parents and schools where families can communicate their concerns with school personnel without feeling anxious that their child/student would be negatively evaluated or shamed. South Asian adolescents would also benefit from having more spaces for dialogue with each other about the everyday stresses that they experience within their families, communities, and in broader American society. A key component of improving access to help is helping families and communities work through the problem of stigma and isolation related to acculturation, mental health, and trauma.

Where are the studies at the moment and where do you anticipate findings going in the next year or so?

I am continuing to focus on the problem of rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation among South Asians over the coming year. I am also examining conceptualizations of sexual violence among Indian American women, through a qualitative interview study. I am also working on a focus group study investigating experiences of racism among 1.5 and 2nd generation Indian Americans. I anticipate that each of these projects will add new knowledge concerning mental health and traumatic stress among South Asians in the U.S.

OD you have any additional resources or further readings for those who want to learn more about the topic?

Here are some studies that may be helpful—please see below:

Tummala-Narra, P., & Sathasivam-Rueckert, N. (2016). The experience of ethnic and racial group membership among immigrant-origin adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 31(3) 299-342.

Tummala-Narra, P., Deshpande, A., & Kaur, J.  (2016). South Asian adolescents’ experiences of acculturative stress and coping. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 86(2), 194-211.

Inman, A.G., Tummala-Narra, P., & Kaduvettoor-Davidson, A., Alvarez,  A.N., & Yeh, C.J. (2015). A qualitative exploration of the role of race and racism for first generation

Asian Indians. The Counseling Psychologist, 43(2), 217-247.

Tummala-Narra, P., Alegria, M., Chen, C. (2012). Perceived discrimination, acculturativestress, and depression among South Asians: Mixed findings. Asian American Journal of Psychology, Special Issue: Secondary analysis of the National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS) Dataset-Part I, 3(1), 3-16.

South Asian adolescents have to deal with additional stress because of cultural differences, being the model minority. Steps need to be taken to get them help for dealing with this stress and convincing them that it is okay to go to a therapist.

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