May is Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month!
Continuum Health Group recognizes that mental health does not discriminate, and affects individuals of all ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities. However, considering AANHPI Heritage Month, we want to bring attention to the unique challenges experienced by the AANHPI community as it relates to mental and behavioral health.
The AANHPI community is highly heterogenous, comprised of more than 23.8 million individuals with more than 50 distinct ethnicities and differences in language, religion, education, socioeconomic status, and immigration patterns. The five largest AANHPI ethnicities include Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Korean, and commonly spoken AANHPI languages are Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Tagalog, Korean, and Vietnamese. AANHPIs comprise about 7% of the nation’s population, and their numbers are projected to reach 46 million by 2060.
In light of anti-Asian rhetoric and incidents spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AANHPI community has experienced increased trauma and fear, profoundly affecting and exacerbating their mental health needs. Research indicates 2.7 million AANHPIs have a mental health need and/or substance use disorder. Yet, they are the least likely to seek mental health services compared to any other racial/ethnic group – AANHPIs are three times less likely to access mental health services than their white counterparts. Of AAPI adults with mental illness, 73.1% did not receive treatment, compared to 56.7% of the overall population. Data also indicates rising suicide rates among AANHPI adolescents, having more than doubled from 2010 (2.2 per 100,000) to 2020 (5.0 per 100,000) and is now the leading cause of death.
Several cultural and structural barriers prevent AANHPIs from accessing mental health services, including but not limited to the following:
- The Model Minority Myth: The AANHPI community has been perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average, creating unreasonable pressure on individuals in the community to meet societal and familial expectations, which can manifest as poor mental health.
- Mental Health Stigma: With a lack of understanding about mental health, especially amongst first-generation immigrants, mental health is often seen as a weakness and source of shame/burden within the community, causing it to be neglected.
- Lack of Cultural Competency: A lack of cultural competency among healthcare providers can lead to misdiagnosis and under diagnosis of mental health illness, and insufficient multilingual services within the healthcare system can make it difficult for AANHPIs to access mental health treatment.
- Data Disaggregation: Despite the diversity in the AANHPI community, data collected about this group is often aggregated, reinforcing the inaccurate perception that the AANHPI community is homogenous and therefore requires consistent interventions throughout the population.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and HHS Workgroup on Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Issues (WANHPI) play instrumental roles in advocating for the health needs of the AANHPI community. President Biden also recently launched the first-ever National Strategy to Advance Equity, Justice, and Opportunity for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Communities. Key pillars of this strategy include prioritizing accurate data collection and disaggregation; advancing safety, inclusion, and belonging for AANHPI communities; promoting language access and preservation; and striving towards an equitable COVID-19 recovery.
However, more must be done to specifically target AANPHI’s mental and behavioral health needs. Bills have previously been introduced, such as H.R. 3573, “Stop Mental Health Stigma in our Communities Act” (117TH Congress), and S.R. 205, “A resolution supporting the designation of May 10, 2023, as “National Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Mental Health Day” (118th Congress), but were ultimately unsuccessful.
Continuum calls upon policymakers to recognize the diversity of AANHPIs and to implement effective interventions that serve this population’s unique mental and behavioral health needs.
Organizations Advocating for AANHPI Mental and Behavioral Health Needs:
- Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum
- Asian Mental Health Collective
- Project Lotus
- South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network
- The National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association
- Asian American Psychological Association
Image from Pew Research Center