AAPI Heritage Month: We Aren’t Doing Enough to Help AAPI Youth

We know the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a vicious toll on the mental wellbeing of young people. Some groups within the youth population have been hit harder than we imagined.

Recently, The Trevor Project reported that 40 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ youth have considered suicide in the past year, and those youth who experienced racism reported higher rates of attempting suicide. Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian youths experienced the highest rate of seriously considering suicide, at 49 percent, according to the new report.

Those statistics are frightening.

As we observe both Mental Health Awareness Month and AAPI Heritage Month throughout May, we must acknowledge that we aren’t doing enough to help young people with the anxiety, depression and suicidality they experience.

Discrimination plays a huge role in the mental wellbeing of AAPI youth and adults alike.

According to The Trevor Project’s report, published last month, more than half of AAPI LGBTQ youth (54%) reported discrimination based on their race/ethnicity in the past year and 1 in 10 reported discrimination based on their immigration status (10%) — these rates were nearly double that of the overall sample of LGBTQ youth.

That discrimination is felt among the broader AAPI community, as well. Between March 2020 and September 2021, more than 10,300 incidents of hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) across the U.S. have been reported, according to the group Stop AAPI Hate.

But at the same time, AAPI communities receive mental health treatment with less frequency than other groups. According to a national survey, AAPIs have the lowest help-seeking rate of any racial group, with only 23.3% of AAPI adults with a mental illness receiving treatment in 2019.

Kevin Wong, the Trevor Project’s vice president of communications, told NBC News the data indicate a lack of support in mental health services targeting LGBTQ Asian American and Pacific Islander youths. 

“These data points show a critical need to invest in — whether it’s resources or suicide prevention efforts — for youth that are culturally responsive and reflect those diverse identities,” Wong said. 

A lack of mental health professionals trained to handle issues culturally specific to them prevents AAPI from seeking care, according to experts, who also encourage more culturally competent mental health services that consider the intersection of identities.

Stigma represents another significant barrier preventing those in the AAPI community from seeking care.

“There is a sense that we need to hide our struggles and hide our vulnerabilities – and perhaps, our pain – so that it doesn’t bring upon a sense of shame or embarrassment to our communities,” Dr. Jenny Wang, a Houston psychologist, said in a recent interview.

We’re working hard to help National Council members address these issues. Earlier this year we released the Social Justice Leadership Academy workbook to help members and other provider organizations embed principles of social justice and equity into their daily practice. We held a webinar recently on Foundations of Social Justice and Organizational Change and a second on Structural & Systemic Biases.

There’s so much we can do to boost our collective wellbeing. This month, we need to work harder to shed light on the widespread need among people of all ages and backgrounds for substance use and mental health treatment.

Author

Charles Ingoglia, MSW
President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing
See bio