Mental Health and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders

Mental Health and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders

May is National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in America. There is clear strength and diversity in L.A. County’s AA/PI community. In fact, outside of their home countries,  L.A. County has the largest populations of Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Korean, Sri Lankan, and Thai people anywhere in the world. The City of Los Angeles specifically, had the highest Asian population in all of L.A. County. 


Historically AA/PI people have been widely divided by dialects and origins, making it difficult for many to unite through an existing platform and to stand up to hate crimes and other injustices. Mental health is an area where progress is being made. The L.A. County Department of Mental Health established The Asian Pacific Islander (API) UsCC Subcommittee under the Mental Health Services Act of 2004. This group works to increase AA/PI access to local mental health services. Today, more mental healthcare outreach, services, and linguistically appropriate information is available for Asian American/Pacific Islanders than ever before. 


Pride in ethnic and communal identity is considered a notable protective mental health factor for many AA/PI people. The sense of communal identity, connections, belonging, and family bonds is a strong predictor of resilience while facing life’s challenges. Studies have shown that a strong sense of ethnic identity is linked to lower suicide risks and predicts higher resilience in the face of racial discrimination. 


Still, compared to people of other racial/ethnic backgrounds, Asian Americans are the least likely to receive mental health treatment – only 20.8% of Asian adults with a mental illness received care in 2020. There are many systemic barriers to accessing mental health care and quality treatment for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Treatment barriers include language, shame, insufficient healthcare coverage, as well as spiritual beliefs that may characterizing mental illness as divine punishment, bad karma, or disturbed flow of life energy inside the body. Such barriers are exacerbated by stigma and a lack of culturally relevant and integrated care. Disparities lead to worsened symptoms and poorer quality of life if treatment is unavailable or delayed. L.A. CADA endorses many alternative cultural treatments, but we also know there are times when medical care is needed.  When a person is struggling with their mental health, it’s essential to receive quality and culturally competent behavioral healthcare in order to improve outcomes.


Check out basketball hero Jeremy Lin’s Journey Against Mental Health Stigma 

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