May is recognized as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. These two observances provide an opportunity for us to reflect on the unique challenges faced by the AAPI community when it comes to mental health and well-being. The intersection of AAPI Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month is significant because mental health is an essential aspect of overall health and well-being, and it affects everyone, regardless of cultural background. For the AAPI community, Mental Health Awareness Month is particularly important as there can be cultural barriers to seeking mental health support. In this blog, I would like to discuss some of the unique mental health challenges faced by the AAPI community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on AAPI mental health, with a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and xenophobia causing increased anxiety, depression, and trauma. Even before the pandemic, AAPI mental health was already a concern due to various factors such as racism, discrimination, and acculturation stress. However, research shows that many AAPI individuals are less likely to seek mental health help or utilize mental health services among other racial and ethnic groups. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), AAPIs have the lowest utilization rates of mental health services compared to any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, only 8.6% of AAPIs with a mental illness sought treatment in 2019.
There are many mental health challenges that impact the AAPI communities. Some of these challenges include:
In many AAPI cultures, mental health issues are often viewed as a personal weakness or a family disgrace. This stigma can make it difficult for individuals to seek mental health care. One factor contributing to this stigma is the cultural emphasis on “saving face” and maintaining a positive image. “Saving face” in Asian culture emphasizes the importance of maintaining harmony and avoiding confrontation, embarrassment, or shame. The pressure to save face can have negative effects on mental health. In some cases, individuals may feel compelled to hide their emotions or difficulties, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. The fear of losing face or being seen as weak may also prevent individuals from seeking help for mental health issues or from expressing their emotions in a healthy way.
The language barrier is a significant issue for AAPI individuals seeking mental health services. Many AAPI individuals are not proficient in English, and may have difficulty communicating their mental health concerns to healthcare providers who do not speak their native language. This can lead to misdiagnosis, inadequate treatment, and other negative outcomes. AAPI Individuals often find it difficult to find mental health professionals who understand their cultural background and experiences. Some AAPI individuals may not have access to mental health resources in their native language or may not feel comfortable discussing mental health issues with a mental health professional who does not share their cultural background.
Cultural Beliefs and Values
Collectivism is often emphasized in many AAPI cultures, which places a strong emphasis on family and community ties. This can manifest in a sense of obligation to one’s family and community, as well as a willingness to prioritize the needs of the group over the needs of the individual. This can create a sense of pressure to conform to societal expectations and norms, which may include downplaying or ignoring mental health concerns. This can make it difficult for individuals to seek help for mental health issues as they may fear judgment, shame or that seeking help may be perceived as a weakness or failure of the family or community as a whole. In addition, there may be a cultural belief that mental health issues should be kept within the family or community and not discussed outside of it. This can lead to a lack of awareness of mental health resources outside of the community and a reluctance to seek help from mental health professionals who are not familiar with the cultural background and beliefs of the AAPI community.
Lack of Culturally Competent Providers
AAPI individuals may be hesitant to seek treatment from mental health professionals who are not familiar with their culture or may not understand their experiences. Furthermore, there may be a shortage of mental health providers who are trained to understand and address the unique mental health needs of AAPI individuals.
AAPI individuals may also experience intergenerational trauma related to historical events such as war, colonization, racism, discrimination and forced migration. These traumas can have a lasting impact on the mental health and well-being of AAPI individuals and their families, often leading to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Model Minority Myth
The “model minority” stereotype that portrays AAPI individuals as successful and high-achieving can create pressure and stigma for those who may be struggling with mental health issues. The model minority myth can lead to dismissive attitudes towards the mental health struggles of AAPI individuals. The model minority myth can also create a perception that AAPI individuals do not face the same level of discrimination and systemic barriers as other minority groups. This can lead to a lack of understanding and support for the mental health struggles that AAPI individuals may face, such as racism, xenophobia, and cultural marginalization.
To address mental health concerns among AAPI communities, it is essential to promote culturally sensitive mental health services that take into account the unique needs and challenges of AAPI individuals. These services may include bilingual mental health professionals, culturally sensitive therapy approaches, and community-based mental health programs. By recognizing and addressing the unique mental health challenges faced by AAPI individuals, we can improve mental health outcomes and promote overall health and well-being. It is important for individuals within the AAPI community to prioritize their mental health and seek help when needed. It is important to have mental health care providers who are culturally competent and able to understand and respect the unique cultural values and beliefs of AAPI communities so that the individuals seeking help will feel seen, heard and understood. This can help create a safe and supportive environment for individuals seeking mental health help, and increase the likelihood that they will continue to seek treatment and support.
In conclusion, AAPI Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month are important observances that intersect in meaningful ways. By working to reduce stigma and provide culturally sensitive care, we can support the mental health of the AAPI community and build a more inclusive and equitable society for all. Let’s use this month as an opportunity to celebrate the diverse cultures, experiences, and contributions of AAPI individuals, and to raise awareness about the importance of mental health.