AAPI Mental Health Crisis

As part of our monthly newsletters, the AAPI Caucus will be sharing information on key issues affecting the coming elections that will impact AAPI communities at both the state and federal levels. In this newsletter we consider the rising tide of violence and racism against AAPI people, its effect on their mental health, and disparities and access to adequate health care along with some actions taken at the Federal level.

May was AAPI Heritage Month and it was also Mental Health Awareness Month. The continued increase in anti-Asian hate crimes has had a profound effect on AAPI mental health, compounded by the existing inequities in healthcare systems and disparities in health outcomes caused by structural racism.

Recent data reported earlier this year has shown that anti-Asian hate crime increased by 339% in 2021, with a huge rise in major cities such as New York and San Francisco, but in smaller communities as well. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-asian-hate-crimes-increased-339-percent-nationwide-last-year-repo-rcna14282

Recent reports have also indicated that in addition to anti-Asian hate crimes, an increase in discrimination against AAPI people was reported at an all-time high, with 64% of Asian Americans surveyed believing that the increase in discrimination was directly related to Donald Trump’s anti-Asian remarks. More than 35% of Asian Americans report that their mental health has worsened during the pandemic, with 58% noting that from March 2020 to March 2021 reports about discrimination and violence against Asian people have affected their own mental health. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/forefront.20220411.655787/

Representative Judy Chu, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, noted that while the AANHPI community is among the fastest growing and most diverse racial groups in the United States, only 23.3% of AANHPI adults with a mental illness were able to receive treatment in 2019, and more alarmingly, suicide is the leading cause of death for Asian or Pacific Islander youth ages 15-24.

The need for data disaggregation also affects the understanding of specific mental health issues within different AAPI communities, including social demographics related to mental healthcare management. AAPI are the most socioeconomically diverse racial/ethnic group with more than 100 different languages, and wide health disparities. The lack of disaggregated data and underrepresentation in clinical trials by these communities also limits understanding and treatment of illness, including mental illness.

Across all AAPI communities, regardless of race or ethnicity, concerns for personal safety and safety of members of their household, stress, depression, and anxiety have added to the ongoing systemic barriers AAPI experience when accessing mental health care and treatment. AAPI people are also among the least likely to access mental health assistance due to cultural concerns with key barriers including stigma in some communities for seeking help for mental health, racial stereotyping (‘model minority’, stoicism), the related lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) and access to integrated care that addresses mental health for AAPI communities. And sadly with the continuing gun violence across America, there is an urgent need for the health care systems to deliver trauma-informed care to all patients, including CLAS to their AAPI patients. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/07/impact-anti-asian-racism

During last year’s AAPI Heritage Month, President Biden signed Executive Order 14031, "Advancing Equity, Justice, and Opportunity for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders," establishing the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI). As part of their mission, WHIAANHPI announced a number of initiatives to address disparities for AANHPI and advance equity, justice and opportunity for the AAPI communities, including to “improve health outcomes, eliminate health disparities, and expand access to quality, affordable, and culturally competent medical and mental healthcare services.” It also includes initiatives regarding data disaggregation, identifying and eliminating institutional policies or barriers to federal services, including language barriers and others that prevent access to government benefits and services. https://www.hhs.gov/about/whiaanhpi/about-us/index.html

In March this year, President Biden announced a “Strategy to Address Our National Mental Health Crisis.” In his statement, he acknowledged the Nation’s mental health crisis, already escalating, has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and noting that people of color are disproportionately undertreated. The national strategy includes strengthening system capacity, connecting more Americans to care and creating a continuum of support services to address mental health equitably. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/03/01/fact-sheet-president-biden-to-announce-strategy-to-address-our-national-mental-health-crisis-as-part-of-unity-agenda-in-his-first-state-of-the-union/

The bipartisan “COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act”, co-sponsored by RepresentativeGrace Meng and Senator Mazie Hirono, was enacted on May 20, 2021 to improve hate crime reporting, response, and prevention. It provides resources for the Department of Justice to help state and local law enforcement, including specialized hate crime units and hot lines, and resources accessible in multiple Asian languages for those with limited English proficiency. On the anniversary of the signing of this Act, Rep. Meng announced, “I am pleased that the Justice Department has announced updates regarding its implementation of my COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. The progress of this legislation, and now law, has been extremely important to me personally and for millions of Americans across the nation as we look toward recovery from the trauma and hardships of the last two years.” https://meng.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/meng-announces-justice-department-s-updates-on-her-covid-19-hate-crimes

On May 10, 2022, Rep Judy Chu, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus introduced a Resolution, along with Representatives Kai Kahele, Doris Matsui, and Marilyn Strickland, to recognize “May 10 as AANHPI Mental Health Day”, noting that it will:

“… serve as an important reminder that our work in destigmatizing and improving access to mental health care is just beginning. As Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I am committed to addressing the stigma, barriers, and disparities that keep the AANHPI community from accessing quality and affordable behavioral health care, such as the need for translation services, or lack of access to health insurance, which is why I have introduced a Resolution to recognize May 10, 2022 as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Mental Health Day. So, let today be a call for our community and allies to advocate for policies that increase the accessibility of mental health care services for AANHPI communities across the nation.”
https://capac-chu.house.gov/press-release/capac-members-commemorate-aanhpi-mental-health-day