You’re Not Alone: Challenging Mental Health Stigmas in The AAPI Community

Author: Gracie Singleton

People always say that you are your own worst critic. This often rings true as we battle perfectionism, feelings of failure, obsessing over that one spot in our hair, or any other mental challenge that might arise. In the United States, it is said that around one in five adults live with some sort of mental illness. Of these people, 47.2% receive mental health care services, but this number nearly halves when looking at the Asian American community. 

In a previous blog post Cheryl Sun wrote that the Asian community is often considered the “model minority,” and while this comes with potentially positive preconceived notions, it also creates a variety of issues, including the idea that we don’t need mental health aid. I’m not sure if this stems from pride, a need to fulfill the seemingly “perfect” stereotype, or some other fear, but Senator Hirono set out to change this issue on May 31, 2023, with her new act the Stop Mental Health Stigma in Our Communities Act.

Now, who is Senator Hirono?

Mazie Keiko Hirono escaped to the United States with her mother and brother from Japan. She spent some time with her grandparents due to her gambling father’s toxic behavior and has since worked her way to where she is now. Through the guidance and support of her friends and family, she became the first Asian American woman to be a Senator. Her passion for her fellow Hawaiians and AANHPI community members is what drives her to work toward bettering their well-being which is where her act was born. 

So, what is the act?

Senator Hirono’s new act would work to increase the number of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders, or AANHPI, that receive mental health care and remove the negative connotations that it might hold. Hirono expresses that insufficient research leads to inaccurate representation and expression of the community’s needs. Because of this oversight, the act would include three separate surveys to be conducted and reported on. The topics include AANHPI youth and adult behaviors in and out of work.
Whether it be language barriers, money, pride, or a general stigma against getting mental health services, the AANHPI community has the lowest amount of people reaching out for help. According to her research, Hirono states that only 25% of Asian adults receive needed mental health care as of 2021 despite being the largest growing population in the United States. From 2018-2020, suicide was the leading cause of death for AANHPI members ages 10-24 which is the only racial or ethnic group to have this as their leading cause. The growing need for this act or some type of change can be seen as the percentage of AANHPI individuals with a diagnosed “Serious Mental Illness” rose from 2.9% to 5.6% in the past 10 years.
All of this leads to the main portion of the act which is to help normalize mental health care. Hirono’s act would work to increase the number of participants in mental health care, de-stigmatize receiving help, and increase the number of AANHPI professionals available to help. Through strategy and research, Hirono hopes to help better the community’s mental state for all age groups to protect and improve our current population and create a healthier future for generations to come. 

Now the question remains, why do we care? 

This matter is important because as Generation Z begins to move into the working world, we want to create a better space for everyone. The aim is to create a society where people can be heard and helped when needed. The idea of suffering in silence is fading away as people are placing more and more emphasis on health. Despite the immense progress that has been seen in society today, there are still many cases of microaggressions, stereotypes, and pressure that can contribute to many mental health issues. This in addition to personal, everyday factors can create an unhealthy mental state, and it is imperative that we all learn to ask for help.  
As Asian students, we need to be healthy both physically and mentally in order to do well in school or work. Finding a community that loves and supports each other is incredibly important, and Asian Student Achievement is a great place to start. We must each work to have the courage to support one another and seek help when needed, and hopefully, Hirono’s new act is a step in the right direction. If you are interested in getting plugged into the Asian American community here, feel free to donate today or apply to join the intern team! 

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