A demonstrator holding up a sign reading #STOP ASIAN HATE.
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

By Leah Harris

This month, we spotlight the intersection of Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. While AANHPI groups are by no means the same, having vastly different cultural histories and a wide variety of lived experiences, the traumatic impact of historic and recent hate crimes and violence against members of these communities has opened up a much-needed national dialogue about how to better support their mental health and well-being.

A recent article in The Conversation highlighted the fact that that while suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, it is the leading cause of death among Asian-American young adults age 15-24. “This is true of no other racial group in this age range in America,” notes the author, Amelia Noor-Oshiro, a PhD in public health candidate. 

While mental health challenges among AANHPIs are on the rise, historically this group has been the most reluctant to seek help for these conditions. This is due to a variety of systemic barriers, including a lack of culturally-competent care. According to the American Psychological Association, 1 in 2 AANHPI will not seek mental health help due to a language barrier. 

According to a recent SAMSHA survey, shame and stigma are also factors in AANHPIs not accessing support when needed. Compared with other racial groups, they are the most likely to give these reasons for not receiving mental health treatment:

  • Didn’t want others to find out
  • Confidentiality concerns
  • Fear of neighbors’ negative opinions

“In relationships with Asian American friends and loved ones, it’s important for allies to emphasize listening over talking

AANHPI communities and allies are organizing to support mental health and respond to trauma and social injustices. This month, the National Asian American and Pacific Islander Mental Health Association is holding a series of virtual roundtables to “address the impact of historical and present day trauma and social injustice on mental health, providing self-care strategies, and identifying long term community engagement strategies to address the mental health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders.” The topics are:

  • Monday, May 10: We Are Not the Same: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 and Social Injustices on the Diverse AA, NH, and PI Communities 
  • Wednesday, May 19: Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Self-Care and Healing 
  • Thursday, May 27: What’s Next? Community Action for Transformational Change

Learn more about these roundtables and register here.

At this time, many are wondering how to be a good ally to AANHPI communities. One major tip is to educate yourself as much as possible. “In relationships with Asian American friends and loved ones, it’s important for allies to emphasize listening over talking,” Joy Lieberthal Rho, an Asian-American mental health provider, told Healthline. “Taking the initiative to educate themselves, rather than expecting Asian American friends to lay groundwork for them, is also key to being a supportive ally.”

You can also be a supportive ally and take action for the mental health of AANHPI communities by participating in any of the upcoming free bystander trainings with Hollaback! designed to help everyday people stop Asian American harassment and xenophobia. The training talks participants through five major strategies for intervention: “Distract, delegate, document, delay, and direct;” and “how to prioritize your own safety while intervening.” The bystander training allows time for practice, leaving participants feeling more confident intervening to stop online or in-person harassment.

We hope these resources and information can be of support to AANHPIs and allies– not just in May, but all year long. Together, we can stop the hate and promote mental wellness.

Resources for further exploration:

Leah Harris is a non-binary, queer, neurodivergent, disabled Jewish writer, facilitator, and organizer working in the service of truth-telling, justice-doing, and liberation. They’ve had work published in the New York Times, CNN, and Pacific Standard. You can learn more about their work at their website and follow them on Instagram.