Asians, like people of all races, can and do experience mental health challenges throughout their lives. Because of cultural norms, their experiences are often made to be invisible.
Mental health is rarely talked about in Asian communities and is often seen as a “white person’s disease.” Because of that, fewer and fewer Asian people get the mental health support they deserve, and this stigma also skews statistics into appearing as though we are not in need of services.
Mental health challenges don’t discriminate based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic class. The less we talk about our struggles, the less likely members of our community will go on to get the support they deserve.
“Asian & Pacific Islander adults are the racial group least likely to seek mental health services – 3 times less likely than their white counterparts.” (MHA)
One particularly pervasive contributing factor to this disparity is the Model Minority Myth: the stereotype that Asians achieve a higher degree of success and should be seen as the model for which other people of color strive. The results are painful. Not only does this myth cause a chasm between Asians and other communities of color, but it also results in an internalized assumption that the struggles that we Asians go through are inconsequential compared to the struggles of others and are undeserving of further conversation.
Additional layers of racial discrimination exacerbate the disparity between mental health challenges and the availability of services. As an Asian working in mental health, I have had the privilege of supporting members of the Asian community as they navigated heightened racial tensions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve had the honor of listening to Asian callers share their experiences of racial discrimination and the resulting mental health challenges, some for the first time.
It became clear to me that our experiences, our perspectives, our struggles, and our successes were real and asking to be told.
None of this is new, but what does appear to be new is the increased awareness and visibility of the plights of the Asian community. I have seen my people be centralized in the conversations of racial discrimination, mental health challenges, and suicide. I have seen signs in the windows of my neighbors that say, “Stop AAPI Hate.” These signs of solidarity warm my heart and lead me to believe we are moving in the right direction.
These are important steps on a long journey to bring visibility to the Asian communities.
If you are hoping to support members of the Asian community, I would suggest creating spaces where Asians can open up about their experiences of mental health challenges and racial discrimination in a way where they feel supported. Validating their experiences and encouraging them to continue the conversation can go a long way toward creating a world where our experiences can be seen and heard.
by Vanessa, LFL Call Counselor