A study recently found that a significantly lower percentage of Asian-American and Pacific Islander women in NYC say that they have access to mental health services, compared to the overall rates for women in NYC.
The 2022 AAPI Survey of Mental Health Among Women in NYC examined the current reality of mental health issues in the city’s Asian-American female population. The survey was conducted by MetroPlusHealth, an affordable health care plan in NYC and a subsidiary of NYC Health + Hospitals.
The survey found that 69% of Asian-American women in the city feel they can talk to their family doctor about their mental health, compared with 80% of women in the city’s general population.
Cultural differences in attitudes towards mental health issues may play a role. “Growing up in an Asian American household, mental health was stigmatized and I had difficulties talking about it with our parents,” says Michelle Tran. Tran is the founder of the nonprofit Soar Over Hate, which aims to support the Asian-American community in NYC and help them heal in the wake of increased anti-Asian hate crimes.
“In many Asian cultures, speaking about mental health is stigmatized, and we’re encouraged to be quiet about it lest we be seen as weak,” Tran says. “This leads to a trend of AAPI avoiding seeking out mental health care resources, which is extremely detrimental.”
The survey indicates that language barriers may play a role in the disparity in rates of mental health care access. While 49% of women in the city overall know a local community-based organization providing mental health services in their preferred language, only 35% of Asian women report the same.
Generational differences in attitudes towards mental health care also exist within the AAPI communities. In the Gen Z cohort, 32% of Asian women state that they are likely to encourage friends and family members to seek mental health care, compared with only 13% of Asian women in the baby boomer generation.
Higher Stress Levels
Understanding these statistics and addressing the disparities in access is especially important considering that, while Asian women report less access to mental health services than the rest of the population, they also report higher levels of stress. 72% of Asian women report feeling stressed, compared with 58% of the general NYC population, and 64% of Asian women report that the pandemic has had a negative effect on their mental health, compared with 40% of the general NYC population.
In analyzing the results of the study, there are many potential factors which could contribute to these disparities between Asian women as a group and the rest of the city. According to the mayor’s office, Asian immigrants in NYC (along with Hispanics) have the highest poverty rate of all immigrant groups. In addition, hate crimes against NYC’s Asian population increased 361% from 2020 to 2021. These are just two examples of obstacles that Asians in NYC face disproportionately, and could contribute to their high rate of reported stress.
Tran says of the community members that Soar Over Hate serves, “[We] have seen the deep trauma that the [anti-Asian] incidents they experienced left them with. In the wake of escalating anti-Asian violence, many who identify as Asian Pacific Islander feel a constant feeling of anxiety and fear that is exhausting and chips away daily at our mental health.”
It is worth noting that AAPI as a category is incredibly heterogeneous in itself – some consider it so broad as to be unhelpful – and women of different Asian and Pacific Islander backgrounds likely face very different obstacles. For instance, the average New Yorker of Japanese descent earns $87,000 per year, while the average New Yorker of Nepalese descent earns only $36,000, according to data from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. Over half of Filipino New Yorkers are college graduates, compared to only 27 percent of Chinese New Yorkers. In addition, the AAPI community in NYC speaks over 50 different languages and spans many religions and diverse cultural traditions. As the city works towards better access to mental health care for AAPI New Yorkers, it is important to keep these distinctions in mind in order to better serve the needs of all.
“In many Asian cultures, speaking about mental health is stigmatized, and we’re encouraged to be quiet about it lest we be seen as weak.” Michelle Tran of Soar Over Hate