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BIPOC and AAPI Mental Health: The Current State of Affairs

Sally Spencer-Thomas | March 16, 2022

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Racism, discrimination, and historical trauma have played major roles in the mental health of our Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and the treatment they receive. According to Dr. Brenda Wade, clinical psychologist, "Systemic racism permeates every layer of society, education, health, and mental health—not just police departments and fire departments."

Why do these barriers persist, and what can we do to improve BIPOC and AAPI mental health supports? This article in a two-part series shares data and observations regarding the current state of mental health challenges and supports for BIPOC and AAPI.

The Current Situation

"Discrimination, race-based stress and trauma, structural oppression all contribute to the genesis and continuation of racial mental health disparities," explains Brianna A. Baker, a second-year doctoral student in counseling psychology. "Exposure to racism is correlated with increased stress levels (Peters, 2006), accelerated aging (Carter et al., 2019; Gee et al., 2019), and a variety of other mental health disparities in BIPOC populations (Jackson et al., 2010; Miranda et al., 2008)."

"Elected officials and all other systems reflect underlying—often unconscious—racism that the research shows creates devastating outcomes for BIPOC," adds Dr. Wade.

Did You Know?

  • Mental Health America reports that 17 percent of Black people and 23 percent of Native Americans live with a mental health condition.
  • According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, members of the AAPI community have the lowest help-seeking rate of any racial/ethnic group.
    • Only 23.3 percent of AAPI adults with a mental health condition receive treatment.
    • Researchers have learned this is often due to the following.Researchers have learned this is often due to the following.
      • Cultural shame
      • Language/cultural relevance barriers in current mental health services options
  • Suicide was the leading cause of death for AAPI members ages 15–24 in 2019. (CDC)
  • Mental health issues are on the rise for AAPI/Native Hawaiian young adults. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health)
  • Major depressive episodes increased from 10 to 13.6 percent in AAPI youth ages 12–17, 8.9 to 10.1 percent in young adults 18–25, and 3.2 to 5 percent in the 26–49 age range between 2015 and 2018.
  • Research indicates the following for BIPOC.
    • Less likely to seek mental health care
    • More likely to experience mental health provider bias
    • Less likely to have access to mental health services
    • More likely to receive low or poor quality care
    • More likely to end services early

The Caveats

Available data tracking of BIPOC and AAPI mental health can be misleading for the following reasons.

  • Due to prejudice and discrimination around mental health conditions and suicide, suicide deaths or mental health challenges are most likely underreported in most BIPOC and AAPI communities.
  • Available data reported does not reflect the great variability that exists within subcultures of BIPOC and AAPI groups.
  • Current statistics do not reflect the rise in anti-Asian hate and its impact on AAPI mental health.

Other Obstacles to Unbiased Treatment and Support

  • Language and cultural barrier
  • Dismissing, denying, or neglecting symptoms due to mental health bias in many Asian cultures
  • The erroneous model minority myth that AAPI communities are doing well and don't need any services or attention
  • BIPOC self-devaluation, one of the saddest byproducts of racism, causes redirection of anger at the system toward "myself and those who look like me."
  • Coping by repressing emotions such as sadness, grief, shame, and loneliness—a necessary strategy to survive racial trauma
  • Lack of representation in the field
  • Multilayered bias and discrimination
  • Historical betrayal by the scientific community
  • Disregard for cultural congruence
  • The current medical model is neglectful, dismissive, and oppressive.

Despite current challenges to equitable and meaningful mental health support for BIPOC and AAPI, helpful insights and opportunities for improvement are out there.


This article 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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