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AAPI communities face steep mental health barriers

Mental health graphic

In 2019, suicide was the leading cause of death for Asian/Pacific Islanders between the ages of 15-24, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Over the last decade in Michigan, and the United States as a whole, there’s been a movement for adding and improving mental health resources. However, stigma and access barriers continue to plague many communities, with some of the greatest disparities impacting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).

AAPI communities are among the least likely to seek mental health care, when compared to other racial and ethnic groups. When they do seek help, the American Psychological Association cites, it happens at a rate three times lower than White Americans.

Dr. Farha Abassi is an assistant professor of psychiatry with Michigan State University. In an interview with WGVU, she said stigma and the battle for resources are among the highest barriers surrounding mental health for AAPI communities.

“Stigma comes from not having the knowledge, not having the awareness or acceptance that we are being impacted deeply. On the other hand, we are seeing that the access is limited,” Abassi explained. “There are language barriers. There are cultural barriers. You don’t have a representative mental health workforce available.”

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cited suicide as the leading cause of death for Asian/Pacific Islanders between the ages of 15-24. Abassi said these are critical issues, especially with a recent rise in xenophobia and AAPI hate crimes.

“There’s lot of xenophobia in the country, a lot of microaggression and hate crimes in the country. How do we protect ourselves from that? How do we talk against that how do we be visible? How do we raise our voices and own our position in the country?” she said.

As a cultural psychiatrist working with underrepresented populations, Abbasi believes creating awareness to the issue is paramount to understanding the importance of mental health services and recognizing the unique, multi-layered and complex issues facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. These issues can include intergenerational trauma, the model minority myth, and bi-cultural struggles, among others.

“Each of us needs to make that commitment. Are we going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?” Abassi said.

For information about mental health resources in the state of Michigan, click here.

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