HomeHealthMental Health Issues in Asian American Communities Heightened During Pandemic

Mental Health Issues in Asian American Communities Heightened During Pandemic

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By Shruti Rajkumar, AsAmNews Intern

At the beginning of April, two Bangladeshi American brothers in suburban Dallas killed four family members before turning the gun on themselves. One of the brothers had been battling depression, which he detailed in a letter about their suicide pact. 

According to a recent study published on the American Psychological Association, in a sample of over 410 Asians and Asian Americans living in the United States, over 40% reported an increase in anxiety, depressive symptoms, and sleep difficulties during the pandemic and nearly 30% reported an increase in discrimination.

Clinical psychologist and president of the Asian American Psychological Association Richelle Concepcion said that many Asian Americans have been dealing with fears of getting sick, increased stress of balancing working from home and helping children with online learning, and anxiety about not being able to leave home.

“Unfortunately, there are both healthy ways to cope with stress and unhealthy ways to cope and stress. And I think that that’s where the consequences of mental health concerns and the murder-suicides that have been observed are coming into play,” Concepcion said. 

AsAmNews has reported on a number of murder suicides this year. In January, an Indian American family of four including two children and their parents were all found dead near Philadelphia in what authorities suspected to be a murder suicide. In San Francisco, a father killed himself and his Chinese-White child in a bitter dispute with the mother.

Despite these examples, mental health professionals AsAmNews talked with say that there hasn’t been a noticeable uptick in murder-suicides rates within the Asian American community over the past year.

Clinical psychologist Anjuli Amin believes there isn’t a direct tie between cultural factors and mental health, but that culture may play a role in how the person responds.

“Certainly, culture can play a role in terms of how someone interprets their situation, what they’re thinking about, or what options they feel they might have. So maybe the stigma associated with mental health and seeking mental health care might not allow that person to consider that as an option, so then their options become limited,” Amin said.

Due to the value placed on saving face within Asian American communities, Concepcion says people tend to turn to other resources, such as religious leaders or other family members, when they need help rather than seeking out behavioral health providers. According to Medical Xpress, results from a 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that only 6.3% of Asian Americans who were age 18 and over received mental health services in 2017, compared with 18.6% of White people.

Amin believes that going to a temple, turning to an elder, or gathering over food can be helpful religious or spiritual approaches to mental health support.

“I think we have to look beyond the western approach to mental health and think about what we have culturally that can also serve as a mental health strategy to get a mental health intervention? A combination of all of those things, I think, can be really powerful”

On the other hand, Concepcion believes that these resources aren’t necessarily well-equipped to help with intervention of mental health issues. “That also plays another role in why maybe some of these murder-suicides have happened and why folks couldn’t either intervene sooner or folks never talked about it, says Concepcion.

Both Concepcion and Amin noticed a rise in domestic violence throughout the pandemic, likely due to the buildup of household tension coupled with the inability to leave the home.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Amin said lockdown restrictions and the tethering of people to the homes brought up the question of whether people will be cut off from access to supportive resources and safety measures. 

“We started to think about folks who may be in more vulnerable positions with respect to domestic violence, child abuse…will they be able to access those resources? Will those resources themselves be able to reach out in a safe way to the people that need the services? When folks are relegated or cut off from resources that can be life saving, or just provide an extra layer of support and safety, that certainly increases the potential for some of those negative events to occur,” Amin said.

Various campaigns and organizations have recently tried to use creative ways to open up dialogues about mental health within communities, said Concepcion. For example, she recalls that the Asian Mental Health Collective has been utilizing social media and hosting virtual spaces to provide people with a safe outlet to discuss mental health and concerns. 

“Folks are taking more creative and less stigmatizing ways or…ways that are more in tune with current technologies in order to open those doors for some folks, especially like folks who either aren’t able to just drive over to a therapist’s office or call a therapist. Even the virtual spaces have been helpful, more so as we were under these like shelter in place orders,” Concepcion said.

Pushing through the discomfort of talking about how one feels and how issues are impacting people is hard, but seeking connection and using the people in your support system is really important when dealing with mental health issues, says Amin. 

“The more we learn about mental health, the more comfortable we become with the idea of using [resources] as a source of support,” said Amin. “I think taking care of yourself is probably one of the biggest things that I advocate for, recognizing that I’m human and I’m going to feel things in a variety of ways and I’m going to have a spectrum of emotion. Sometimes just allowing ourselves to be human and to feel what we’re feeling can be a really powerful experience.”

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