Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander violence has significantly risen. Last week, the shooting of eight people in Atlanta including six women of Asian heritage catapulted anti-Asian racism to the forefront of the news cycle.
If you’re an AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) young person, or have an AAPI young person in your life, you may be extra stressed, worried for the safety of yourself or your loved ones, or have other intense or confusing feelings. If you’ve experienced or know someone who’s experienced anti-AAPI violence or other racist acts, these feelings may be even more intense. That’s ok, and it’s normal. Remember to make room for yourself to experience and honor those feelings. Talk to people you trust about what you’re going through.
Here are 7 things to keep in mind about the impact of the rise of anti-Asian racism on the AAPI community.
1. The rise in xenophobia and anti-Asian violence is real.
According to the NYPD, there was an 833% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in NYC in 2020. Stop AAPI Hate, a national system for tracking discrimination and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific islanders, received nearly 3,800 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents over roughly a year during the pandemic. These incidents include verbal harassment, coughing and spitting, and physical assault. Most incidents were reported to be against Asian women.
If you’ve experienced harassment, or know people who have, you are not alone.
2. COVID-19 has played a major role.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (which originated in Wuhan, China), there has been a significant rise in xenophobia. Racist terms like “China Virus” and “Kung Flu” intensify hate against Asian Americans by blaming them for the pandemic. To make matters even worse, people in power, like former president Donald Trump, have used these terms unapologetically and repeatedly. When we see people in power act certain ways or use certain words, it legitimizes those behaviors and language. People who may have felt uncertain or uncomfortable using that language before may have felt more comfortable after seeing people in power use it. For example, a study from the University of San Francisco found that anti-Asian views increased on Twitter after then-President Trump used the term “Chinese virus” in a tweet in March 2020.
3. Racism and xenophobia are not new to the AAPI community.
Anti-AAPI racism is (rightfully) receiving a lot of coverage by mainstream media right now. However, racism and xenophobia are not new to AAPI communities. Asian Americans are often seen as foreigners or outsiders, and many people still assume that AAPI individuals were born outside of the United States and can’t speak English. For example, many Asian Americans get asked, “But where are you really from?” if they tell someone they’re from somewhere in the United States. This sends the message that Asian Americans do not belong here, or are not “real” Americans.
On a much larger scale, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was the first and only law in the United States to restrict all immigration for a specific nationality. The Act was created partially to ease fears about maintaining white “racial purity.” During World War II, Japanese Americans (but not German Americans) were placed in internment camps over fears that they were spies. These examples are just two of many. To learn more, check out the PBS documentary series Asian Americans.
4. Anti-Asian racism has affected young people’s mental health.
According to a study through the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign, 1 in 4 Asian American youth have experienced racist bullying. Even if they haven’t directly experience racist language or behaviors, AAPI young people have been greatly impacted by the rise of xenophobia. Many expressed feelings of anger, frustrations, disappointment, fear and sadness, and/or exhibited symptoms of depression.
In addition, with the rise of anti-Asian violence, many understandably fear for their own or their family’s safety, which adds a whole other layer of stress and anxiety. This is on top of the stress that the COVID-19 pandemic has already caused.
5. AAPI families are already at risk for mental health challenges.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), mental health issues among AAPI young adults were already on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic.
This may be partly because AAPI youth are vulnerable to intergenerational trauma. Trauma can be any big, scary event or ongoing, stressful situation. Many AAPI youth have parents or grandparents who have experienced trauma such as the Vietnam War or Japanese American internment camps during World War II. Experiencing this type of significant, prolonged stress can have a major impact on individuals’ mental health, and puts those directly affected at risk for mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
When a parent or caregiver has experienced trauma or mental illness, it can also have psychological effects on their children or grandchildren, placing them at risk for their own mental health challenges. However, this does NOT mean that you will definitely have a mental illness if your parent or caregiver does.
6. Those in the AAPI community may be less likely to seek mental health support.
This could be for many different reasons, including language barriers, the lack of culturally respectful support and more. Some communities have a cultural mindset that it’s important to “keep your head down” and not draw too much attention to yourself. Asking for help with mental health can feel or be seen as rocking the boat, and looked down on. In addition, people of all races and ethnicities may also face mental health stigma, including the idea that things aren’t “bad enough” to ask for help, or that needing help is a sign of weakness.
Dealing with stigma can be tough. It’s important to keep in mind that asking for help takes a lot of courage, and is actually a sign of strength, NOT weakness. People talk to counselors or go to therapy for all kinds of reasons. You don’t need to have a mental illness to see a therapist. However, if you’ve been feeling especially down, tired, sad, anxious, or stressed, aren’t enjoying activities you used to, or are having a hard time with your everyday routine, it may be time to ask for help. Talk to someone you trust like a parent, teacher, guidance counselor or family member about what you’re going through. Always remember that you are not alone.
As the rise in anti-Asian hate continues, Asian Americans are being more vocal nationwide. Younger Asian Americans are speaking up through social media and at rallies such as those in the Bay Area and New York City to increase awareness and demand change. The hashtag #IAmNotAVirus was started by French Asians, but has spread around the globe to raise awareness about anti-Asian racism.
If you’re part of the AAPI community, it’s particularly important to take care of yourself. Use our piece on How to Practice Self-Care When Confronted with Racial Trauma for some ideas. While this piece was written with anti-Black racism in mind, the advice on self-care still stands. You can also take a look at the mental health resources below.
If you’re wondering how to support the AAPI community right now, continue educating yourself and seeking out the perspectives of AAPI community members. Consider taking a bystander intervention training so you know what to do if you witness anti-AAPI racism. Check in with your AAPI friends.
AAPI Mental Health Resources
- Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA): Dedicated to advancing the mental health and wellbeing of Asian American communities through research, professional practice, education, and policy. Check out their Bullying Awareness Campaign and LGBTQ+ Resources.
- Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum: Focused on improving the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
- National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association has several great resources:
- Southasiantherapists.org has a great directory of South Asian therapists, including therapists of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Afghan and Nepali heritage.
- The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center provides comprehensive, confidential health care including mental health care to 10-26 year olds in NYC at no cost to patients. Call 212-423-3000 for an appointment or learn more
- Hollaback offers virtual bystander intervention trainings specifically targeted at preventing anti-Asian harassment.
Dr. Miranda Loh is a board-certified pediatrician and current adolescent medicine fellow at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. She completed her residency at Dell Medical School-The University of Texas at Austin after receiving her medical degree from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine-University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, TX . She is passionate about providing comprehensive care to adolescents and young adults. Her areas of interest include sexual and reproductive health, nutritional wellness, advocacy, and medical education.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 12,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.