[Content Warning: Mention of suicide and self-harm statistics in regards to racial discrimination.]
Loneliness and Alienation
AAPI Youth have struggled to grapple with their identities.
The vicious pressure at a young age to assimilate with “regular society” while also living up to familial expectations and tradition forces them to overextend themselves. It does not help that racial discrimination from peers and strangers is common, as AAPI fall victim to the assumption that they are foreign (despite not always being foreign-born) and therefore inferior based off their race. Unfortunately, these situations that are all-too-familiar can lead to a feeling of alienation and the need to internalize your true identity, feelings, and aspirations. The same thing can be said for LGBTQ+ Youth who are Asian American/Pacific Islanders, and add to that profound sense of isolation.
The Trevor Project conducted a study which reported on AAPI LGBTQ+ Youth in connection with Mental Health. The report includes that self-harm is reported by 55% of AAPI LGBTQ+ Youth, with rates being higher among ones who identify as transgender/non-binary or are Pacific Islanders/Native Hawaiians. It is also said that overall, 40% of AAPI LGBTQ+ Youth have “seriously considered suicide in the past year,” with a higher rate among Pacific Islanders/Native Hawaiians, Korean-Americans, and Filipino-Americans in the 40-49% range.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that “AAPI have the lowest [care-seeking] rate out of any racial/ethnic group,” bringing to attention the unfortunate racial disparity when it comes to mental health services of people of color and the stress of having to prove oneself constantly due to systemic racism, stereotypes like the model minority myth, and family expectations.
Model Minority Myth
The model minority myth is the inaccurate idea that Asian Americans possess innate qualities and behaviors which make them academically superior to other minority groups... [Read More]
Why AAPI Mental Health Isn’t Taken Seriously (And Why You Should Care)
AAPI Culture is incredibly diverse, so values highly differ among a mosaic of lifestyles. However, it is not uncommon for the more rigid, family-oriented cultures among them to emphasize a heteronormative standard; hence a lot of queer relationships or non-conformity is often shunned. AAPI might often feel the need to appeal to their family’s traditional way of life, having to choose between shameless individuality in exchange for being “invisible” or acceptance from the world in exchange for self-love/actualization. According to an article from the American Psychological Association:
“Twenty-four participants described experiences of conflict with their AA families regarding their sexual orientation, coming out, and/or relationships. The level of participants’ disclosure of their sexual orientation to family and degree of relational conflicts varied according to their parents’ degree of [awareness or acceptance]. For participants who were not out to their family it seemed to create ‘pressure on the home front, being unable to be who I truly am with my parents.’”
The assumption (referred to as the model minority myth) that AAPI are given special treatment simply because they are statistically more successful in academics and other fields gives leeway to harmful stereotypes. It also:
Treats AAPI like a monolith despite their diverse set of cultures, languages and beliefs
Delegitimizes race-based traumatic stress that AAPI face throughout their lives, and belittles it to some minor inconvenience with no major effect (which is textbook example of gaslighting, wake up.)
Puts down other racial/ethnic groups who experience race-based scrutiny, bullying, and traumatic stress.
Adds onto unrealistic expectations already put onto AAPI.
As previously stated, this pressure can lead to a very heightened feeling of isolation and identity confusion. AAPI might not seek out mental health services for many reasons, whether it be shame or stigma, a language barrier, or certain faiths and beliefs. Another major reason is that non-Western medicine or practices are sought out more often among AAPI, especially by ones who are First-generation immigrants.
Everyone should be aware of the importance of mental health, and a real focus has to be made to offer mental health resources for people of color who are affected by systemic racism. As Kevin Wong, the Trevor Project’s VP of Communications, said in reference to the survey on LGBTQ+ AAPI Youth:
“These data points show a critical need to invest in–whether it’s resources or suicide prevention efforts–for youth that are culturally responsive and reflect those diverse identities.”
Coping and Resources
The trauma of being discriminated against, shunned, and alienated can take such tolls on an AAPI Youth, while also taking into account Queer AAPI. However, there is a light in the darkness.
A 2015 article (Sung et al.) says:
“[The] multiple minority identities [of Queer AAPI] can also be sources of strength and coping to manage stigma-related stress in their daily lives. [They] may obtain more flexible and adaptable views in responding to life events because they have been exposed to both Asian and Western values and perspectives on their life experiences (pg. 3).”
A way of coping is surrounding yourself with other AAPI Youth, or joining heritage clubs or GSAs. That way you will be around people your age and be able to talk about your experiences and struggles. If you are not the social type, another way you can deal with this is reading or finding curated resources online. It is okay to reach out with credible organizations like these; they are dedicated to helping you and making you seen.
Here is a PDF (with clickable links) from the Mental Health Coalition with a myriad of resources.
AAPI are tired of having to leave it up to ourselves and having to carry the burden of many worlds all on our own. However, there is no change if we give into the shame that has been instilled into us. I dream of a world where people of color get the proper help and reparations they need. That we’ll be able to say “I’m Asian” from the highest mountain, with zero shame, and no pit in the stomach. That world is far, but it isn’t out of reach.
The Trevor Project. (n.d.). The Mental Health and Well-Being of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) LGBTQ Youth. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/AAPI-LGBTQ-Youth-Mental-Health-Report.pdf
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Asian American and Pacific Islanders. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/Asian-American-and-Pacific-Islander
Yi, V., & Museus, S. D. (2015, December 30). Model Minority Myth. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118663202.wberen528
AAPI Women Lead [aapiwomenlead]. (2022, May 12). Coverage on an NBC News Articles covering a recent Trevor Project survey conducted on AAPI LGBTQ+ youth. [Instagram post]. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CdeO5UEJ70N/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
Sung, M. R., Szymanski, D. M., & Henrichs-Beck, C. (2015). Challenges, coping, and benefits of being an Asian American lesbian or bisexual woman. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/sgd-sgd0000085.pdf