This study examines an understudied population, Indian American youth in the United States (U.S.), who face risks such as cultural stress and being labelled the model minority (with societal expectations for high achievement) which could influence behavioral health outcomes. Indian Americans now constitute the second-largest immigrant group in the U.S., having doubled in size from two million in 2000 to four million in 2019, and yet we know little about the cultural issues that impact their lives. Concerning youth in this population, there is a paucity of research, specifically, about whether the cultural stressors and model minority internalization adversely impact their mental health. The present study addresses this research gap in order to help providers such as teachers, physicians, social workers and other professionals better address their needs.
Indian American youth (12-17 years of age, N = 204), residing in the U.S. with parents who were born in India, were recruited for an online survey; cross-sectional survey data was used examine the relationships between cultural stressors, family functioning, and behavioral health outcomes. Several standardized measures were used (e.g., Beck Anxiety Inventory, Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) Adapted for Adolescents, Perceived Discrimination Scale) and two were adapted for use with this population (i.e., Bicultural Identity Integration Survey, Internalization of the Model Minority Myth Measure). Structural equation modeling was used to analyze the degree to which cultural stress factors (i.e., discrimination, negative context of reception, bicultural identity integration) and endorsement of the model minority stereotype were associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Findings showed that discrimination was positively associated with symptoms of anxiety (B=0.594 [SE=0.061], p=.0001) and depression (B=0.398[SE=0.082], p=.0001). Bicultural identity integration was positively associated with family support (B=0.440 [SE=0.090], p=.0001) which, in turn, was associated with fewer symptoms of depression (B=-0.283 [SE=0.077], p=.0001), while endorsement of the model minority stereotype (B=0.350 [SE=0.093], p=.0001), was positively associated with family closeness which, in turn, was related to fewer symptoms of anxiety (B=-0.255 [SE=0.072], p=.0001). Negative context of reception (B=-0.207 [SE=0.84], p=.019), was negatively associated with family support, which, in turn was associated with fewer symptoms of depression.
Conclusions and Implications
This study begins to fill the gap in knowledge about the impact of cultural stress on the behavioral health of Indian American adolescents. We see evidence that cultural stressors negatively impact mental health in this population both directly (in the case of discrimination) and via impaired family functioning (in the case of negative context of reception). Bicultural identity integration and—surprisingly—model minority stereotype endorsement was positively associated with family functioning. Although reliance on convenience sampling and the use of cross-sectional data are noteworthy limitations, the study expands on research on the deleterious impact of cultural stress on the mental health of adolescents to include Indian American youth. Study findings underscore the importance of programs designed to prevent cultural stress exposure and assist minoritized youth who are exposed to social/contextual stressors. Future research should explore the interplay between model minority internalization and family functioning in this population.