Have you ever experienced stigma? Have you ever been treated poorly due to one small aspect of yourself, because someone made a judgement about you based on that one quality? It could be a negative connotation based on how you look, act, or speak, where you come from or what you believe. The stigma of mental illness prevents many people from seeking help or getting diagnosed, as they fear the negative repercussions this could have on their lives, including discrimination in areas like housing, education, employment, and healthcare. Some individuals face an even stronger stigma against mental illness due to being part of a minority group.In some cultures, mental illness carries an even greater stigma, causing people to be too ashamed to ask for help. This is especially true of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, for whom seeking out help for possible mental illness can be considered even more taboo.
The United States has long been considered a melting pot, or “tossed salad”, with cultures from all over the world coming together to form a nation, and everyone’s rich culture contributing to a greater “whole”. This is even more true of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, which represents so many different countries, religions, and cultures. “Asian-Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island).” Despite their longstanding presence in the United States, they are one of many groups that are not fully accepted by some people, which is seen through stereotyping, discrimination, and harassment. The Asian American and Pacific Islander community has faced a sharp increase in racism since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sadly, discrimination of AAPIs is nothing new. As with many immigrant groups in the United States, they have faced prejudice and inequity. The Page Act of 1875 made it very difficult for women of Asian descent to immigrate to the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited Chinese immigrants from becoming US citizens and blocked further immigration from China for 10 years. Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in WWII, which is something that many of our history lessons overlook. As a society, we need to admit to the wrongdoings of our past and create a culture in which they cannot be repeated. Instead of dehumanizing those who are different from us, we can learn more about them and value how this diversity enhances our lives.
As we continue to fight the stigma of mental health, it is important to recognize that this stigma is even stronger for those within the AAPI community. There are many reasons why AAPIs have barriers to mental health resources, including feeling like they can’t show weakness or emotion, that it would be disrespectful, or that they don’t feel like they are able to talk about their mental health with others. It may also be difficult for them to feel understood and supported in therapy with those who do not understand their cultural background. And as AAPI represents individuals with a wide variety of beliefs, religions, and languages, finding a culturally sensitive mental health professional becomes even harder.
Many organizations are working to overcome these barriers, such as the Asian American Psychological Association, the Asian American Health Initiative, the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, and the Asian Mental Health Collective. These groups provide education and resources to AAPIs to overcome cultural and language obstacles that prevent them from receiving mental health care.
As members of a global community, we need to promote acceptance and embrace diversity. One way to do this is to recognize the many ways that AAPI culture has been incorporated into our lives. There are activities to teach children about AAPI through literature, food, geography, art, and more. There is a wealth of information available online to learn about AAPI history and culture. This includes many AAPI reading lists for adults and children. As adults, it is important for us to be positive role models for children and teach them acceptance of others through both our words and actions.
Instead of trying to be a melting pot, we can try to be like a salad bowl, full of unique and diverse cultures and perspectives that work together to enrich and enhance each other. We can take pride in our own backgrounds while celebrating the diverse cultures that surround us. This extends beyond just the inclusion of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the month of May. We need to make understanding and acceptance of those who are different from us a part of our daily lives throughout the year. This will improve the quality of life for all of us and reduce the need for mental health support by removing discrimination, stereotypes, and exclusion.