Mental Health Within Asian American And Pacific Islander Communities
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Mental Health Awareness Month began in the US in 1949 by Mental Health America. The purpose of Mental Health Awareness month is to raise awareness, educate the public, and reduce stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Then, in the 1970s Jeanie Jew, after witnessing the lack of recognition of Asian Pacific Americans, worked with Congressman Frank Horton to do something about it. Together, Jeanie Jew and Horton’s Chief of Staff, Ruby Moy, established Asian Pacific American Heritage Week in 1978 which then turned into an annual heritage month in 1992.
AAPI Heritage Month has become a month to learn about diversity within AAPI communities and about the contributions and influence of the AAPI community on the history, culture, and achievements of the US. AAPI communities consist of approximately 50 ethnic groups speaking over 100 languages, with connections to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Hawaiian, and other Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries.
The convergence of these two events makes May the perfect opportunity to discuss mental health within Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. As of 2019 there are about 22.2 million Asian people and 1.6 million Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders in the United States. Asian American and Pacific Islanders is said to be one of the fastest growing ethnic groups and is predicted to be 8.9 percent of the population by 2050.
About 14.4 percent of Asian Americans and 16.6 percent of Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders have a mental illness. However, only 23.3 percent of these individuals seek help compared to the national average of 44.8 percent—making the AAPI community the racial/ethnic group with the lowest help-seeking rate. Of course, there is a lot of nuance in understanding the barriers AAPI communities face when approaching mental health treatment, but major factors include: language barriers, stigma and shame, insufficient health coverage, immigration status, faith and spirituality, challenges in research, and limited access to culturally competent services.
While discussing mental health, it is critical to discuss the rise in hate crimes against the AAPI community as oppression and racism largely contributes to mental health. Between March 19, 2020 and March 31, 2021 there were 6,603 incident reports to Stop AAPI Hate—with a sharp increase of 2,808 reports in March 2021 alone. In addition to the detrimental trauma this places on the individuals directly experiencing these hate crimes, there is strong research showing how historical and cultural traumas affect survivors’ children for generations to come.
As May comes to a close, it is imperative we carry the spirit of Jeanie Jew and the many Asian and Pacific Islanders that came before her into the work and services we provide. Below you will find a list of resources via the Nation Alliance on Mental Illness specific to the AAPI community.
Resources and Notes (via National Alliance on Mental Illness)
If you or your loved one does not speak English, or speak it limitedly, you have the right to receive language-access services at institutions that receive funding from the federal government as well as the right to request a trained interpreter and to receive information in your language.
If finances are preventing you from finding help, contact a local health or mental health clinic or your local government to see what services you qualify for. You can find contact information online at findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) — Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders ADAA is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and co-occurring disorders through education, practice, and research. It has a dedicated webpage on AAPI resources and research information.
AAHI is a health and wellness initiative of Maryland’s Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. Its website is available in four Asian languages: Traditional Chinese, Hindi, Korean and Vietnamese.
AAPA is a San Francisco-based non-profit organization of Asian American mental health professionals, with the mission of advancing the mental health and well-being of Asian American communities through research, professional practice, education, and policy.
A new global non-profit organization with the mission of normalizing and de-stigmatizing mental health within the Asian community through projects such as Facebook group, resource library, video web-series, and meet-up groups.
Founded in 1986, APIAHF influences policy, mobilizes communities, and strengthens programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
Asian Pride Project is a nonprofit organization that celebrates the journeys, triumphs, and struggles of LGBTQ individuals and Asian and Pacific Islander (API) families and communities through the use of arts — film, video, photography and the written word — as a medium for social justice and advocacy.
CAFAMH is a NYC-based nonprofit organization that seeks to promote self-empowerment and mutual support among Chinese-American caregivers of individuals with mental illness by providing a safe space for family support group meetings.
A non-profit organization based in Brooklyn that provides awareness programming and education workshops to Chinese-American families.
CAA advocates for systemic change that protects immigrant rights, promotes language diversity, and remedies racial and social injustice.
Mental health support guide for Chinese-American communities.
GAPIMNY Empowering queer and trans Asian Pacific Islanders.
Asian American/Pacific Islander communities and mental health.
MHACC is a California-based nonprofit organization with a mission of raising awareness of mental health within the Chinese community through advocacy, education, research, and support.
MedlinePlus MedlinePlus is a free service provided by the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health which presents high-quality, relevant health and wellness information in multiple languages, including about 20 AAPI languages.
NAAPIMHA is a nonprofit organization with the mission of promoting the mental health and wellbeing of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
NQAPIA is a federation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations.
Psychology Today's directory provides a comprehensive and searchable directory of therapists, psychiatrists and treatment facilities across the U.S. and includes a directory of Asian therapists.
Viet-Care A California-based nonprofit organization providing mental health education, support and advocacy to Vietnamese-American families.
A global youth-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit seeking to destigmatize mental illness and increase access to affordable, quality treatment for youth aged 13 to 24. Its founder, Diana Chao, and her team of youth advocate leaders represent diverse communities and contribute to the awareness of and advocacy for Asian American youth mental health. Download their Youth-for-Youth Mental Health Guidebook (free digital B&W version) for more in-depth statistics and narratives on AAPI communities.