May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Please reference the below information from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Psychology Today in supporting the Mental Health of our AAPI community.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are an integral part of the American cultural mosaic, encompassing a wide range of diversity. AAPI communities consist of approximately 50 distinct ethnic groups speaking over 100 languages, with connections to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Hawaiian, and other Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries.
Ethnic and communal identity is considered a notable protective mental health factor for many AAPIs. The sense of communal identity, connections, belonging and family bonds is a strong predictor of resilience while facing life’s challenges. Studies have shown that a strong sense of ethnic identity is linked to lower suicide risks and predicts higher resilience in the face of racial discrimination, which is, unfortunately, an issue for many in this population.
On the other hand, second-generation AAPI immigrants may face challenges in their cultural identity, struggling to balance their familial ties to traditional cultural values with the pressure to assimilate to mainstream American society. Additionally, an emphasis on community identity can create a strong burden of expectations, which may increase stigma and shame if a person doesn’t meet those expectations.
Barriers To Mental Health Care
Compared to those of other racial/ethnic backgrounds, Asian Americans are least likely to receive mental health treatment - only 20.8% of Asian adults with a mental illness received treatment in 2020. There are many systemic barriers to accessing mental health care and quality treatment for Asian Americans, which are exacerbated by stigma and a lack of culturally relevant and integrated care. These disparities can lead to worsened symptoms and poorer quality of life if treatment is unavailable or delayed.
As immigration is a primary driver of AAPI population growth within the United States, many AAPI do not speak English as their primary language. 30.9% of Asian Americans do not consider themselves fluent in English, and rates of English language proficiency vary depending on nation of origin. Additionally, 60% of AAPIs aged 65 years and older have limited English proficiency. Language barriers and limited availability of culturally appropriate mental health service providers may prevent people from getting the care they need.
Stigma and Shame
Compared to those with other racial/ethnic identities, AAPIs are more likely to report that they did not receive mental health treatment because they:
- Didn’t want others to find out
- Feared their neighbors’ negative opinions
Lack of understanding about mental illness and stigma associated with mental health issues can lead to denial or neglect of mental health problems, especially among first-generation AAPI immigrants. The notions of shame and “loss of face” is an important factor in understanding low use of services among AAPI people.
Mental illness has often been considered a weakness or a sign of poor parenting, and a source of shame not only to the individual, but also to the entire household. The desire to protect the family’s reputation can often discourage help-seeking until there is a crisis.
When it comes to diagnosable mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and addiction, the Asian worldview is that you are to figure these issues out yourself since seeking help is viewed as a moral failure in traditional Asian families. This is intertwined with Asian cultural shame that can keep clients bound to honoring their culture, thus short-circuiting their desire to get healthier.
The Model Minority Myth
Asian American communities are burdened with the “model minority” stereotype, a prevalent and misleading assumption that depicts AAPIs as uniformly well-adjusted, attaining more socioeconomic success than other minority groups through strong work ethic, conforming to social norms and excelling academically. The fact is the AAPI community is highly diverse across subgroups in rates of socioeconomic, health and mental health challenges. The social and familial pressure created by this deceptive stereotype can prevent community members from seeking mental health care.
Insufficient Health Insurance Coverage
Concerns over the high cost of mental health care also lead to lower rates in help-seeking and treatment adherence. Some groups within the AAPI community face disparities in coverage — Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI) populations have a higher uninsured rate of 13.0% , compared to 7.0% for Asian American communities in 2019.
Some AAPI immigrants may not seek necessary mental health care due to fears of jeopardizing their immigration status or citizenship application process.
Faith and Spirituality
Faith and spirituality have important influences on mental health, especially for the AAPI community where religious diversity is a distinct characteristic, and more people identify as Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or other religious affiliations compared to the U.S. average.
Faith communities often offer a built-in social support system. However, religious communities may perpetuate stigma around mental illness that can delay treatment. For example, characterizing mental illness as divine punishment, bad karma, disturbed flow of life energy or imbalance of basic elements inside the body. This is especially true for AAPI families who turn to their religious leaders first for mental health support.
Discrimination, Harassment and Violence
Discrimination, harassment, and violence have a serious impact on the mental health and well-being of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. For example, one study found that 42% of those who had experienced discrimination had anxiety symptoms, 30% had depression symptoms, and 39% had symptoms of traumatic stress. Therefore, it is critical that these communities have access to appropriate mental health resources.
Mental Health Resources
Miramar Mental Health Services: 619-388-7881
- Union of Pan Asian Communities (UPAC): a non-profit that supports underserved diverse populations. Their staff speaks over 30 different languages and dialects and their "programs focus on mental health counseling, community engagement and business development, addiction treatment & recovery, housing counseling, health promotion and cultural competency education." More information can be found at https://www.upacsd.com/about/ or by calling (619) 232-6454
- It’s Up to Us- San Diego Resources
- A Mental Wellness Activity Book For Asian Americans
- Sakhi For South Asian Women
- Supporting AAPIs in the workplace
- Asian, Pacific Islander, and South Asian American (APISAA) Therapist Directory
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- California Hope
- How to Protect Your Mental Health While Fighting Racial Injustice
- Mental Health Resources for Young People of Color
- The Recovery Village
Asian American and Pacific Islander | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
Discussing Asian American Mental Health This AAPI Month | Psychology Today
17 Mental Health Resources for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders AAPI (verywellmind.com)