Even as denouncing racism has become a virtue signal for individuals and corporations these days,, there still are millions living in America who feel overlooked when seeking social justice and adequate representation for their people. An increase in hate crimes has led some to look toward the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population and recognize the impact of their general exclusion from conversations about race and prejudice. This article will examine this current mental health crisis among AAPI individuals, the historical context of these hate crimes, the context concerning AAPI mental health and mental health treatment, and, finally, provide some resources on what we can do to begin to increase representation and equity among AAPI individuals.
Sharp increase in AAPI hate crimes:
- To begin to understand what AAPI individuals are facing today, we should first look toward the intense increase in hate crimes within this population. While we may have noticed some increase in reports concerning AAPI hate crimes, these reports do not begin to tell the story of what is currently going on in these communities. The NYPD reported that, in New York City alone, hate crimes motivated by anti-Asian/Pacific Islander sentiment jumped 1,900% in 2020. I want to take a second to reiterate this statistic: there was a 1,900% increase in hate crimes, and the media has yet to truly provide coverage on this issue. It can be difficult to put this type of hate into words, but civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Amanda Nguyen makes her best effort to express her anger:
- “I was mad, like blood boiling through my veins now, watching my community get slaughtered,” says Nguyen, a civil rights activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in advocating for sexual assault survivors. “How many more people need to be killed in order for the news outlets, especially mainstream ones, to think that we’re worthy of a story?”
- You can learn more about the extreme rise in violence in the TIME article below:
Psychological impact of hate:
While hate crimes and direct physical violence against AAPI individuals can be a more visible form of discrimination, it is important to also acknowledge the impact racism can have psychologically. In a study conducted in the Journal of American College Health, researchers found not only that AAPI have the lowest rate of mental healthcare utilization, but statistical analyses revealed that when controlling for interracial trauma significantly impacted dissociation, hallucinations, posttraumatic stress symptoms, and hypervigilance (Gomez, 2017).
Some additional statistics concerning the psychological impact of discrimination against AAPI individuals:
- According to a 2020 report by the Pew Research Center, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 39% of Asian American/Pacific Islanders believed people were acting uncomfortable around them, 31% reported being subjected to slurs and jokes, and 26% feared that someone might threaten or physically attack them because of their race or ethnicity
Historical Context and AAPI Hesitancy to Seek Mental Health Treatment
First, to understand the general hesitancy of AAPI individuals to seek treatment, we can review a brief historical examination of AAPI individuals and the utilization of mental health. Mental health services in this community have a relatively brief timeframe. While President Kennedy’s Immigration Act of 1965 removed immigration quotas based on national origin and race-based criteria for immigrants, efforts to undo these civil rights policies were initiated in the 1970s and enacted in the 1980s by conservative legal activists (Daum & Ishiwata, 2010). For example, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 repealed previously progressive immigration policies, and caused many community mental health centers to subsequently close. This resulted in persons-of-color seeking mental health services to be unable to receive them. The argument toward this repeal, which reflected both amnesia and insensitivity to continuing societal inequities, was that the playing field had suddenly become equal for people of color. Special attention to or programs for particular cultural groups became regarded as violations of fairness (Daum & Ishiwata, 2010; Vasquez & Jones, 2007).
Additionally, the mental health needs of Asian Americans have been a relatively low political priority historically, due to various racial biases (Hall, Nagayama & Yee, 2012). AAPI communities have a relatively low utilization of mental health services due to several factors. First, many AAPI individuals with mental health issues have been recent immigrants or refugees from foreign wars, and have been of lower socioeconomic status, or without insurance (Lim, Hendry & Francis, 2013). In a study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ willingness to seek counseling was examined using a sample of 278 college students. The study found that factors such as Asian cultural values, European American cultural values, public stigma, stigma by close others, self-stigma, and attitudes toward seeking professional help related to willingness to seek counseling (Choi & Miller, 2014).
What Can We Do?
We hope what we’ve shared today can help raise awareness and provide context around the poor utilization of underutilization of resources by the AAPI community, even as there has been a dramatic increase of violence towards individuals from this community since 2000. . Below are further resources if you or someone you know is seeking support: :
- Home – Stop AAPI Hate: AAPI Equity Alliance (AAPI Equity), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University launched the Stop AAPI Hate coalition on March 19, 2020. The coalition tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice: Since 1991, the AAJC has fought to advance civil and human rights for Asian Americans and to build and promote a fair and equitable society for all. Their Atlanta affiliate is the first and only nonprofit legal advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) in Georgia and the Southeast.
- AAPI Equity Alliance Website – Website for the Asian American Pacific Islander Equity Alliance: AAPI Equity Alliance (AAPI Equity) is dedicated to improving the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through civic engagement, capacity building, and policy advocacy
- STEPS – Of course, our practice also provides trauma-informed care with cultural humility, and would be a good resource for anyone within this community as well as well outside of it.
- Additional Resources