Asian American/Pacific Islander Mental Health Awareness
• May 2023 •
Executive Director’s Message: Asian American/Pacific Islander Mental Health Awareness
The month of May marks two important opportunities: Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month and National Mental Health Awareness Month. I think it’s a good time to discuss both.
About 23.8 million people in the U.S. identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander (AA/Ps), and that’s 7.2% of all Americans. The group includes a broad group of people originally from the Asian continent, the Pacific islands of Melanesia and Micronesia, and from Polynesia. According to Congress, the month of May was chosen to commemorate immigration of the first Japanese people to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, which relied on Chinese immigrants.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have contributed a lot to American culture and society, including science and medicine, literature and art, sports and recreation, and to government, politics, activism, and law. In 2021, Kamala Harris became the first Asian American Vice President of the United States. That’s progress. The Pew Research Center reports that Asian Americans are the actually the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the United States, growing 72% between 2000 and 2015. This shines a light on the growing economic and political power of Asian communities. The strengths of AA/PI people are well known; their purchasing power alone is expected to be $1.3 trillion in 2023. What is less known are the mental health challenges that our AA/PI community faces from immigration, discrimination and racism.
As do many others, Asian and Pacific Islanders can drink and use substances to cope with uncomfortable feelings. Research shows that 2.7 million AA/PIs have a mental and/or substance use disorder (SUD) – a rate lower than the general U.S. population. The challenge is that AA/PI people are the least likely to seek mental health services of any racial/ethnic group here. Services to treat trauma may be vital: a study reported that 70% of Southeast Asian refugees receiving mental health treatment were diagnosed with PTSD related to war, immigration, and cultural loss. Treatment barriers for AA/PI people include the group’s reputation as a ‘model minority’ for success and achievement. Lack of information on mental health is another important risk factor, together with associated stigma (especially among first-general immigrant AA/PIs) and denial or neglect of mental health issues.
If you know someone who needs multicultural assistance with substance use and mental illness, ask L.A. CADA for help. We’re here at (562) 906-2676.