In a year that saw the closing of businesses, skyrocketing unemployment and ongoing hate incidents concurrent with the public health crisis, the severity of Asian Americans’ struggles has been minimized at best or gone unnoticed at worst, experts say.
Many trace the invisibility of the community’s challenges, in part, to the mythical characterization of the racial group as compliant, successful and faring well — tropes that have long obscured the reality of their struggles.
Asian Americans are the racial group least likely to reach out for help. And that fact — coupled with an already existing belief that AAPIs don’t struggle — has only exacerbated pandemic-related problems for the community.
The group is roughly three times less likely than whites to seek mental health help. While Asian Americans report fewer mental health conditions than their white counterparts, they are more likely to consider and attempt suicide.
“Especially when you when you talk about the invisibility of some of their issues, in a sense, it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Richelle Concepcion, president of the Asian American Psychological Association, told NBC Asian America.
Concepcion explained: “If they see that it’s not being discussed in their communities, and then that’s reflected on anything that they see in the mainstream media about which communities are affected, they feel discouraged about raising their voices. It still goes back to not wanting to make waves despite seeing that there are disparities within their community.”
For many Asian Americans, asking for help, despite how difficult this year’s circumstances have been for them, can feel like a mentally insurmountable barrier due to the pressures and expectations that the model minority myth has set, D.J. Ida, executive director of nonprofit National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, said.
Other more general struggles like grief and social isolation can feel uniquely painful for those in the Asian American community, Han said. There’s a limited knowledge about mental health in the predominantly immigrant community, particularly because of the stigma associated with seeking assistance.
“The pandemic is really like being in a pressure cooker; it just gets heavier and heavier and heavier,” she said. “So we need more to have conversations to raise awareness and show, ‘I’m not alone. I don’t have to do it myself. I’m not selfish.’ It’s one of the things that we were training people when we do community training. We are so trained to sacrifice for the family, particularly Asian women, that we feel selfish. In order to be really, really good daughter, wife, sister, whatever, take care of yourself so you can take care of others.”
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