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BIPOC and AAPI Mental Health: Improving the Situation

Sally Spencer-Thomas | March 16, 2022

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The potential for the improvement of Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) mental health support, treatment, and recovery abounds. BIPOC and AAPI need more equitable reimbursement rates from insurance companies, less bias in diagnosis and treatment, and help to overcome mental health stigma in their communities.

The disparity in providers (e.g., psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, and nurses) also needs to be addressed.

The acknowledgment and inclusion of all challenges that BIPOC and AAPI face are essential. "How can we 'treat' individuals and ignore the historical trauma and systemic racism?" asks Pata Suyemoto, feminist scholar, writer, educator, diversity trainer, and mental health activist. "How is this even ethical?"

"When it comes to historical trauma, if you lie to people long enough, they'll begin to believe it's the truth," adds Dr. Brenda Wade, clinical psychologist. "This is why it's a challenge to dislodge the fear and mistrust of 'The System.'"

Discovering Solutions

How can BIPOC and AAPI people receive the most equitable care and sustainable results?

"We don't exist in a vacuum," explains Dr. JaNaè Taylor, licensed psychotherapist, private practice owner, podcaster, and emotional wellness consultant, "and to approach our medical care without seeing the whole being is irresponsible and damaging. In our BIPOC communities we've learned that we are our own best asset, and things like peer support, healing circles, and mutual aid fill those gaps."

Brianna Baker, PhD, student in counseling psychology at Columbia University Mental Health Equity, recommends an approach that is adaptable and culturally responsive to provide the most equitable care and sustainable results. Ms. Suyemoto recommends enabling BIPOC and AAPI communities "to define for ourselves what is helpful and useful and culturally relevant."

Central to the conversation of how best to support the mental health of BIPOC and AAPI communities is to realize that one size does not fit all. An approach that works for one community does necessarily work for others. Additionally, improvements to mental health treatment and support for BIPOC and AAPI include the following.

  • Culturally representative providers. Mental health systems need more providers that understand BIPOC and AAPI and how to advocate for their needs. We need to train more clinicians to address racial trauma and systemic racism in practice. We need to create stronger opportunities for people of color to serve as mental health providers.
  • Dismantle systemic racism in mental health systems. Address the white supremacy culture and a Eurocentric perspective that imbues the mental healthcare system.
  • Understand BIPOC and AAPI mental health through a trauma-informed lens. Improve access to trauma-informed interventions to acknowledge and address the historical racial trauma and current systemic racism that all BIPOC and AAPI experience. Stop misdiagnosing and pathologizing trauma.
  • Partner with organizations of color and community leaders. Assess best mental healthcare practices and supports for particular communities—ask and listen.

Community Care—an Alternative to Medicalized Mental Health Treatment

Community care is a viable option for more holistic and helpful mental health treatment. "Community care is critical for everyone, but especially for BIPOC and AAPI communities," says Ms. Suyemoto. "Often what professionals in the mental health field consider as 'care' is medicalized and not in alignment with BIPOC needs or cultures."

Community care is a holistic approach to identifying and understanding each individual's needs in the context of the social and physical landscape. It's about developing a culture of shared mental wealth in which collective healing and liberation are the priority. In this framework of mental health support, BIPOC and AAPI people are valued as a whole person and as an integral part of the intersecting communities of which they identify. This culturally congruent approach to mental health care values a person's culture while validating their experiences as an individual.

There are many benefits to this approach. First, community care provides great accessibility and equity. This form of support meets a person where they are at physically, emotionally, and cognitively and brings traditional cultural practices to the forefront of treatment. These practices include spiritual practices (e.g., meditation, chanting, drumming, and dance), oral traditions, kinship systems, and the arts.

Emphasis on Community Resilience, Strength, and Hope

BIPOC and AAPI have strong traditions in their cultures that have endured centuries of oppression and efforts to eradicate them. This resilience and tenacity and the increased recognition and respect that these traditions are beginning to garner offer hope for the future. Africanity, for example—community-supporting beliefs and practices that originated on the African continent—have survived enslavement and modern-day racism. "Please remember that Africanity … has infiltrated America and world culture through dance, music, visual art, and Black inventions," says Dr. Wade. "Cultivate Africanity in your life and celebrate the courage and strength of ancestors who made our lives possible!"


This blog is based on an #ElevatetheConvo Twitter chat hosted on July 8, 2021, by Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, @sspencerthomas. Advocates and experts unpacked the many ways that disparities show up in our BIPOC and AAPI communities and opportunities for change and help. Special thanks to the following guest panelists.

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