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Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders face mental health barriers

Over the last decade in Michigan and the rest of the country there’s been a movement for adding and improving mental health resources, but stigma and access barriers continue to plague many communities. Some of the greatest disparities can be found among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders 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 says it happens at a rate three times lower than White Americans.

Dr. Farha Abassi is an assistant professor of psychiatry with Michigan State University. She says 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 also see that the access is limited. There are language barriers. There are cultural barriers. You don’t have a representative mental health workforce.” said Abassi.

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 says these are critical issues, especially with a recent rise in xenophobia and AAPI hate crimes.

As a cultural psychiatrist working with underrepresented populations, she says creating awareness to the issue is paramount, to understanding the importance of mental health services and recognizing the multi-layered, complex issues facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, such as intergenerational trauma, the model minority myth, and bi-cultural struggles.

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

For those seeking resources, Abassi recommends visiting the state of Michigan’s website to find community mental health services in the area.