Understanding the informal help-seeking process of Korean emerging adults living in the U.S.: Influence of the family context

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Korean Americans are a major Asian subgroup in the U.S., and epidemiological data demonstrate that rates of mental health symptoms are higher among Korean American emerging adults compared to other Asian American counterparts. Seeking and receiving appropriate support are important ways to cope with mental health burden, but there is a dearth of literature on how Asian Americans seek help from friends and family members. Available studies suggest that various sociocultural factors influence the informal help-seeking process among Asian Americans. As family context has a significant impact on children’s sociocultural development, examining such contextual factors can help understand some of the mechanisms and correlates of informal help-seeking. In this dissertation study, I explored the characteristics and associations among family communication patterns, relevant sociocultural factors (i.e., perceived parental support, emotional self-control, relational concerns, face loss concerns), and informal help-seeking intentions using a sample of 201 Korean American emerging adults (ages 18 – 29) drawn from an online survey. In paper 1, factor analysis showed that different help sources can be grouped into three domains (i.e., formal sources, family members, and partner and friends), with intention to seek help being the highest towards partner and friends, followed by family members and formal sources. Characteristics of higher acculturation were positively associated with help-seeking intention towards partner and friends. In paper 2, mediation analyses revealed that participants with parents fostering unrestrained communications perceived receiving more informational support from parents, which in turn was associated with higher intention to seek parental support. Participants with parents emphasizing conformity in beliefs and values perceived receiving less emotional and implicit support from parents, which in turn was associated with lower intention to seek parental support. The negative association between conformity orientation and perceived emotional support was only significant among participants identifying as American or bi-cultural. In paper 3, bivariate analyses showed that conversation orientation was positively associated with informal help-seeking intention, while conformity orientation, emotional self-control, relational concerns, and face loss concerns were negatively associated. Mediation analyses indicated that participants with parents stressing conformity in beliefs and values were more likely to endorse suppression of emotional expression and be concerned with potential loss of face from help-seeking, which in turn were associated with lower intention to seek help from family and friends. Findings from this dissertation study point to the utility of examining family contextual factors to better understand the informal help-seeking process among Korean American emerging adults. More studies on Asian Americans’ informal help-seeking are needed to find more culturally appropriate ways to address the mental health needs of this population.