Breaking the Silence: Understanding AAPI Students’ Mental Health Struggles

Mental health is health—take care of yourself.

Within the past few years, the Asian American Pacific Islander community has come under fire more than ever before. With panic exacerbating fears of COVID-19, there have been increased microaggressions, outright racism, and physical attacks. Naturally, this wears on the mental health of the AAPI community as a whole.

But this isn’t a new problem within the Asian American demographic. Due in part to long-standing cultural beliefs, mental health issues are often overlooked. However, it’s now more important than ever before to open up the conversation. In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we’re doing a deep dive on Asian Americans and their relationship with mental health.

The prevalence of mental health issues among AAPI students

Mental health in general still has an unnecessary stigma attached to it. Unfortunately, this stigma is especially prevalent within the AAPI community.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Asian American adults are less likely to seek out mental health services than any other racial or ethnic group.

According to a study done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it was found that Asian Americans are more likely to report serious psychological distress than any other racial or ethnic group.

Worse still, the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association (NAAPIMHA) reported that AAPI students have a higher rate of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts compared to the national average.

Clearly, there is a need for mental health services for AAPI students. And yet still so many suffer in silence for far too long.

The unique challenges faced by AAPI students

Another critical hindrance for the AAPI community is cultural and linguistic barriers. Because of this, there are often disparities within mental health care. In turn, Asian Americans will likely suffer in silence due to a lack of adequate treatment.

There’s also the harmful “model minority” stereotype attached to the AAPI community. Due in part to various external factors like academic and family expectations, Asian American students are saddled with even more pressure.

The stereotype is that AAPI students are inherently hard-working with high incomes and education. In turn, this drives a wedge between Asian Americans and other minority communities. Not to mention the fact that it can be isolating within their own community if certain expectations are not met.

Barriers to seeking help and how to overcome them

As mentioned earlier, language and cultural barriers can hinder Asian Americans when it comes to seeking out mental health treatment. Thankfully, there are strategies to implement in order to effectively take charge of your mental health:

  • Education: Learn more about mental health and why seeking treatment is important.
  • Talk to someone: Sharing your feelings with someone you trust is a great first step to improving your mental health, along with building a support system for yourself.
  • Consider your culture: It may be beneficial to find a therapist who shares your culture and language in order to help you feel more comfortable.
  • Use tech: Plenty of mental health resources are available online, which may help you feel more comfortable seeking out help.
  • Take baby steps: Even small actions like researching therapists or scheduling a consult is moving in the right direction.
  • Stay strong: Remind yourself that taking charge of your mental health shows immense strength. Keep taking positive steps forward.

Building a support system for AAPI students

One of the best ways to improve your mental health is to find forms of community. Research has continually shown that those who are socially connected have better mental health outcomes than those who are isolated. It also increases a sense of purpose, belonging, and connection.

But finding community isn’t always easy. If you’re looking to expand your circle and start creating a support network, here are some great places to start:

  • Campus counseling centers: Most college campuses have free mental health services available to their students, such as a certain amount of free therapy sessions ever semester. Reach out to your college’s mental health office to find their available resources.
  • On-campus organizations: Getting involved with campus activities like clubs, intramural sports, or other organizations will come with a built-in community. Start investigating what kinds of things are going on around campus to find the perfect fit for you.
  • Online support groups: If you’re not feeling up to face-to-face interactions, there are so many resources available online as well. Organizations like the Asian American Psychological Association, the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, and the Asian American Health Initiative are great places to start.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, click here for a list of resources.

There are plenty of scholarships available for AAPI students. Check out these scholarships you can apply for right now.