A number of myths exist in and about the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in regards to mental health.
The first is that the groups that make up this community all have the same views, opinions, and experiences. AAPIs include individuals with roots in countries like India, Korea, and the Philippines, representing vastly different cultures, backgrounds, and worldviews. While this may seem obvious, these groups are often clustered together, in both research and practice, as uniform pieces of the AAPI identity.
Such a definition of this community creates a number of problems, particularly the Myth of the Model Minority. This myth highlights the success some AAPIs have achieved in the United States despite the racism and adversity they faced. Not only does the myth ignore the diversity within the AAPI community, the expectations conveyed in it also allows for misinterpretation of research that shows AAPIs use mental health services far less than others. As AAPIs are expected to succeed, many take this data to mean they experience less psychological distress when the opposite is likely true.
Many, particularly AAPI students, experience large amounts of stress that impacts their mental health but mask this distress due to the expectations placed on them. The source of this stress can come from our society, with the Myth of the Model Minority demanding that AAPI students succeed academically or else be considered an outlier for their group. Often, this requires AAPIs to “overcome” their experiences of racism, discrimination, and bias. However, the stress and expectations can also come from a student’s family, with many AAPI parents insisting their child succeeds academically. Additionally, AAPIs may be unwilling to seek help for the psychological distress caused by this, preferring not to seek support for their struggles in the belief that this would reflect poorly on their families or experiencing shame that they are unable to handle the same difficulties as their parents.
Instead, many choose to “save face” by seeking care for physical symptoms that are the manifestation of their psychological distress, such as migraines, heart pains, or cramps. However, this likely will not provide the necessary care, resulting in a deterioration of mental health.
From here, some may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance use or self-harm, or, in the direst of circumstances, suicide.
To prevent this, it is important to destigmatize mental health so those experiencing psychological distress are comfortable to find support, either professionally or informally. Resources and more information on these topics can be found in the links below:
- Open In Emergency: A collection of essays, research, creative writing, and resources that re-envisions mental health through the eyes of AAPIs. Includes a DSM: Asian American Edition, Tarot Cards, and other resources that are culturally relevant to the AAPI experience. There are also more resources online, including podcasts that discuss these issues further.
- Mental Health Among Asian-Americans: An overview of the mental health issues that impact AAPIs, produced by the American Psychological Association
- Asian-American Women’s Health Initiative Project: This site contains information on Boston University’s Asian Women’s Actions for Resilience and Empowerment (AWARE), a research project that analyzes the mental health issues impact Asian-American women, including mental illness, intimate partner violence and specific issues for those in the LGBTQ+ community. Also contains information on services and resources in the Boston- and Lowell-areas that are specifically design for AAPI individuals
- Asian Mental Health Program: A special program for people from Asia and the Indian sub-continent that covers the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work, and family therapy. Established by the Cambridge Health Alliance, it is run out of their Somerville office and may be available for referrals to other providers.
- An Asian American’s Language of Mental Health: Empowerment and Understanding through Conversation: An examination of one Vietnamese-American woman’s struggle to describe her mental health struggles to her immigrant mother. Examines the barriers between children and their parents created by language and the stigma around mental health and the empowerment that can come with being able to have open conversations with those closest to you. Provides translations for common mental health terms into Vietnamese and Korean.
- Fix My Children: Working With Strong-Minded Asian Parents: An examination of common struggles encountered when working with AAPI families when a child presents with psychological distress. While the article is directed towards counselors, it provides helpful tops and context for navigating this unique relationship, including how parents can misconstrue some behaviors and symptoms as disrespect and how to avoid this.
- Rest for Resistance: a space for people of color in the LGBTQ community to find healing and support for their mental well-being