Illuminating Mental Health Equity in Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities
“The power of visibility can never be underestimated.” – Margaret Cho.
May is both National Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage and Mental Health Awareness month. The AAPI communities make up about 7% of the population in the United States with more than 50 ethnic groups and speaking more than 100 languages. We are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States, bringing diverse cultural traditions and history to local communities.
However, the AAPI communities have the lowest rate for seeking mental health services out of all racial and ethnic minority groups. In fact, we are three times less likely to seek mental health services. In 2019, only 23% of AAPI adults with a mental illness received treatment. For younger AAPI adults aged 20-24 years, suicide is the leading cause of death and responsible for about 33% of deaths in that age bracket. This percentage falls to 21% for non-Hispanic whites, 15% for people of Hispanic origin, and just under 10% for non-Hispanic Blacks. (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2022)
Hospitals, health systems and their surrounding communities can help this situation, starting with several important actions.
- Disaggregate the Data:
Different groups within the AAPI communities have notably different experiences in social, physical and mental health. By disaggregating the data, it brings in the opportunity to address the true needs and create a culturally competent environment for the specific group within the AAPI communities. It is important to realize that there are culture-bound syndromes that may play a role in building rapport with the patient.
- Build Community Engagement Strategies:
The AAPI communities are twice as more likely to live in multigenerational homes and are more likely than any other minority groups to speak a language other than English at home. It is important to focus on educating the family members and work on normalizing the conversation of seeking professional mental health services before one’s mental health deteriorates – leading to worse outcomes. There is an underlying stigma and generational difference in how mental health is viewed and understood in the community. There are also language barriers that play a role in the delay for treatment. Roughly a third of AAPIs have limited English proficiency. Hospitals must ask themselves how they can join hands with community leaders and organizations to foster relationships and talk about mental health in the AAPI communities. AHA has resources available on behavioral health and community partnerships.
- Have Zero Tolerance for Anti-AAPI Hate
As you may have seen, heard or unfortunately, experienced anti-AAPI hate, the rise in the number of anti-AAPI acts have added an increased toll on mental health for the AAPI communities. In a report released by Stop AAPI Hate, Brigham and Women's Hospital of Boston and the Asian American Psychological Association, researchers found that about 72% of AAPIs who have experienced racism felt more stress over the anti-AAPI hate than the pandemic. At the same time, those who reported incidents had less race-based traumatic stress, which the researchers defined as psychological or emotional harm caused by racism. I ask for all of your help to institute a zero tolerance for any anti-AAPI acts within your hospital, health system and community organizations.
As we continue celebrate the AAPI communities this month and thereafter, I challenge you to identify ways your hospital can play a role in normalizing and destigmatizing mental health within your community. A good starting point is to ask yourself when was the last conversation you had about mental health with someone you cared about.
Julie Kim, MAS, CPHQ
Senior Program Manager, Health Equity Strategies
Julie is a Korean-American, born in Los Angeles, California. She grew up in South Korea until age 8 and immigrated to Chicago, Illinois. She learned how to speak English while maintaining her Korean language, culture and traditions at home. She has served as an ESL tutor within her community since her youth and has volunteered over 500 hours at a local community hospital – often translating for patients, visitors and family members. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a focus on health policy and management.
Resources to check out:
- AHA Community Health Improvement – Community Health Assessment Toolkit
- AHA Behavioral Health: Community Partnerships
- Community Health Improvement Week