Skip to main content

Mental health is one of the issues that is becoming more and more relevant in our society. However, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are often overlooked when it comes to mental health services due to systemic racism and gaps in the healthcare industry.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 21% of AAPI adults received treatment for a mental illness in 2020. This is less than other communities that reach out for treatment with Hispanic/Latinos at 35%, Black Americans at 37% and White Americans at 52%. The issue seems to be that AAPIs don’t often seek help for mental problems due to a number of cultural factors. 

Perception of Mental Health in AAPI

As highlighted in the AAPI Consumer Fact Pack from My Code’s Intelligence Center, this community comprises more than 25 ethnic groups from over 50 countries, with 57% of AAPIs in the US born in other countries. This emphasizes the importance of understanding the diverse perspectives and cultural beliefs that make up the entire community. Removing the monolithic stigma that AAPIs react the same to mental health services is the first step to helping them approach mental health problems in a more positive and open manner.

Data from the CDC, as cited by Urban.org, shows notable differences in AAPI adults who report mental health problems according to their country of origin. For instance, it shows that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are more likely to report severe psychological distress than Chinese or Japanese individuals.

Barriers to Obtaining Mental Health Services

Cultural and religious beliefs and family experiences affect perceptions around mental health issues in Asian cultures. Some of the main reasons why AAPI members don’t often use mental health services are because of structural barriers, prejudice and discrimination, according to the Racial/Ethnic Differences in Mental Health Service Use among Adults report. For example, adult respondents said they fear that voicing their needs for mental health services and medication could have a negative effect on employment.

Cultural nuances show that AAPIs are less likely to seek help for their mental health because there has been a negative stigma behind reaching out for help, given many of their collectivistic upbringings. This creates barriers that prevent these communities from accessing and seeking help. According to Columbia psychiatrist Dr. Warren Ng, MD, AAPIs often feel that they don’t want to damage the reputation of their family and themselves so they end up staying quiet instead of reaching out for help.

Overcome Health Obstacles

For Dr. Ng, the key to helping AAPIs feel comfortable with seeking mental health services lies in broadening the availability and communication with these communities so they can access resources adapted to their cultural backgrounds without a stigma attached to it.

Mental health professionals have to be culturally competent, says Dr. Nadine Chang. This implies that they must learn about the racial and societal dynamics of AAPIs and their role in mental health issues. Some organizations are creating a more inclusive space where AAPIs from across the globe can receive mental health care, such as the Asian Mental Health Collective. There are also resources at the macro level like the National Treatment Referral Helpline and the SAMHSA Treatment Locator, which provide ways to find mental health care services to all communities. 

Educational health sites like Verywell Mind raise awareness on how AAPIs can reach out to professionals, and they provide a list of Instagram accounts that focus on mental health within Asian communities. When organizations and medical facilities create these resources, they provide a safe space for AAPIs to voice their opinions and share their similar beliefs and goals regarding mental health. 

Stay up-to-date with best practices on how to market your brand and its services to AAPI communities with resources from My Code.