Mental health does not discriminate. It impacts one in five individuals at any given time. But people of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent rank last among all ethnic groups in seeking care, a fact that is particularly disconcerting in this time of racism, hate crimes, and bias incidents against AAPI Americans and communities.
“Even before the pandemic Asian American and Pacific Islanders were the lowest help-seeking group. There was already under treatment of mental health conditions,” says Columbia psychiatrist Warren Ng, MD. To illustrate the scope of the challenge, he notes that AAPI as a group is not a monolith and represents over 30 ethnicities and 50 languages.
The pandemic highlighted what many already knew: There are gaps in how we provide care in the United States. Like other groups, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have traditionally been overlooked. Ng attributes this in part to systemic racism including the “model minority” myth. The term refers to a group perceived as successful, hardworking, and resourceful, in spite of obstacles other groups do not face. As a result, they receive fewer resources and services.
The phenomena of Asian hate, anti-Asian sentiment, hate rhetoric, and blaming Asians for COVID-19 have made AAPI people scapegoats, leading to more feelings of anxiety, depression, and emotional and psychological suffering. “Pandemic isolation provided relative security and safety. Now, as people are in more social, public spaces, they are being targeted. It’s very traumatic,” says Ng. These attacks create mental health crises for family members and witnesses too.
Unfortunately, in addition to other impediments to getting mental health care, going outside of the community for help can be a challenge. “Culturally, this is true of many ethnic groups,” says Ng. “Keeping issues with the family, not bringing in strangers to avoid shame and stigma is common.”
Read more at CUIMC.Columbia.edu.