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Advisor: Jim Plumb MD, MPH, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University


Mental health disorders are an important public health issue as they are frequently under-diagnosed and under-treated, leading to significant morbidity. Under-recognized mental health issues may be a contributing factor to the high drop-out rate within the Korean American college student population. This pilot qualitative research study explores the mental and emotional costs and consequences of Korean American students attending college. The study uses key informant interviews from three perspectives: Korean American students, Korean American parents and mental healthcare professionals. The overarching theme of Culture demonstrates the pervasiveness of the Korean American worldview on the topic of seeking help for mental health issues. From this overarching rubric, three themes emerge related to cultural barriers to diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders - family dynamics, stigma and perspectives. These factors present challenges and opportunities for achieving academic success in Korean American students. Family pressure for high academic achievement within the Korean American community may not be balanced with opportunities for socialization and development of coping skills required for managing the mental and social stresses commonly experience by college students while. carrying the burden of parental pressure for academic success, contributing to high college drop-out rates in Korean American students. To improve the quality of these students’ academic pursuits, it is important to address the Korean American community’s attitude about emotional and mental distress experienced by college students, improve understanding of the appropriateness and benefits mental health services and build trust built with the non-Korean American community providing support services.