May is Mental Health Awareness month – a time to highlight the importance of mental health, spread awareness of the prevalence of mental illness, and help to break the stigma experienced by the millions affected. Minority populations often face prejudice, cultural stigma, and a lack of resources which can translate into poorer mental health outcomes.
We previously offered some suggestions for managers on how to respond in the wake of the Atlanta Mass Murders. The tragic Atlanta shootings that took the lives of eight victims this year has shed light on the discrimination that exists against Asian-Pacific Americans and the longstanding neglect that this population has experienced. It is crucial that our communities come together to learn about the adversity Asian-Pacific Americans face, offer support, and advocate for change both in the workplace and society at large.
- Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) make up roughly 7% of the U.S. population (2018 Census).
- Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group currently in the U.S. From 2000 to 2019, there has been an 82.2% increase in the Asian American population and a 72.7% increase in Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
- The largest Asian groups (in order of prevalence) are Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese.
- The largest Pacific Islander groups are Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamanian, and Chamorro.
Unique Challenges that Asian Americans face (but are not limited to)
Many AAPIs come from a history of war, colonialization, and/or immigration. The trauma experienced from these can be passed down through generations. Intergenerational trauma negatively impacts descendants’ physical and mental health in many ways by increasing anxiety, shame, risk taking behaviors, vulnerability to stress, and a number of other psychiatric symptoms. There’s also disparities in Minority health.
Multi-cultural identities – 66% of AAPIs speak a different language other than English at home. Many struggle to balance living in an individualistic culture (outside of home/ U.S.) with the collectivistic nature of their culture or origin (inside of home/ family’s country of origin)
“Model Minority Myth” – AAPI stereotypes in place in American society, particularly in education and the workplace, perpetuate bias attitudes that are hurtful and destructive for both the AAPI population and their non-Asian counterparts. (Learn more here: What is the Model Minority Myth?)
“Perpetual Foreigner” stereotype – Many AAPIs have been asked the question “Where are you from? No… where are you REALLY from?”. AAPIs are often viewed as “foreigners”, even though they were born or been a native to the land.
COVID-19 and Anti-Asian hate crimes – It is important to recognize the prejudice-motivated hate crimes that add to the fear, concern, and hardship AAPIs face. Review stories of anti-Asian hate crimes that AAPI communities have experienced here: Anti-Asian Hate Crime Testimonies. You can report hate crimes on the link as well.
Current data shows that Asian Americans Pacific Islanders are the least likely to seek mental health support…Why?
Language barriers- Many mental health resources do not provide services in the language of comfort. Without the ability to communicate, it is a challenge to access these resources and to fully benefit from their assistance.
Cultural barriers- It is known that counseling practices are largely researched and tailored to clients from Western cultural backgrounds. Many AAPIs balance both Western and Eastern cultural values (religion, language, cultural norms, etc.). This can be addressed by seeking counselors in their preferred cultural/racial identities by searching for counselors using this link: Asian Mental Health Collective.
Stigma- Many Eastern cultures uphold an honor-based narrative that can spread feelings of guilt and shame and diminish feelings of self-worth. This has brought about a stigma towards seeking help and taking necessary actions towards addressing one’s mental health. Seeking mental health services can be seen as weakness or as bringing dishonor, shame, and guilt towards self or family.
What can managers do?
There are many ways managers can support employee mental health . We reviewed some tips in a previous post such as:
Build a culture of connection through check-ins. Intentionally checking in with each of your direct reports on a regular basis is more critical than ever. Now, with so many people working from home, it can be even harder to notice the signs that someone is struggling. Go beyond a simple “How are you?” and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful. Wait for the full answer. Really listen, and encourage questions and concerns. Of course, be careful not to be overbearing; that could signal a lack of trust or a desire to micromanage.
Offer flexibility and be inclusive. Expect that the situation, your team’s needs, and your own needs will continue to change. Check in regularly — particularly at transition points. You can help problem-solve any issues that come up only if you know what’s happening. Those conversations will also give you an opportunity to reiterate norms and practices that support mental health. Inclusive flexibility is about proactive communication and norm-setting that helps people design and preserve the boundaries they need.
When someone shares that they’re struggling, you won’t always know what to say or do. What’s most important is to make space to hear how your team members are truly doing and to be compassionate. They may not want to share much detail, which is completely fine. Knowing that they can is what matters.
Communicate more than you think you need to. Make sure you keep your team informed about any organizational changes or updates. Clarify any modified work hours and norms. Remove stress where possible by setting expectations about workloads, prioritizing what must get done, and acknowledging what can slide if necessary.
Make your team aware of available mental health resources and encourage them to use them. Almost 46% of all workers in one study done in relation to this article said that their company had not proactively shared those. If you’ve shared them once, share them again. And be aware that shame and stigma prevent many employees from using their mental health benefits to seek treatment, so normalize the use of those services.
Although managers will be on the front lines of addressing mental health issues, it’s on the most-senior leaders in your company to take action as well. Here are some suggestions for managers on talking about mental health issues with employees.
It is important to remember that AAPI is a diverse group with many subgroups (representative of over 40 countries and more than 100 languages spoken). These subgroups can differ in cultural norms, language, values, immigration status, and experiences. Take the time to learn about the unique traditions, histories, barriers, and backgrounds of your AAPI colleagues, friends, and family members to foster a culture of inclusion and work towards breaking stigma surrounding mental health, illness, and wellbeing.
About the Authors
Lauren Drake, LCSW
Lauren is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and head of Internal Learning, Development, and Clinical Care at Espyr. Lauren has worked in the field since 2013 and has experience across several domains including substance use, mental health, public schooling, relationships, and EAP. She is authored in scientific journals for research on topics such as adoption, childhood development, and cultural competency.
Tom Kim, MS, NCC
Tom was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. at a young age. Tom received his Masters from Georgia State University in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia. Tom is working as a Customer Care Specialist at Espyr.
For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.
Asian American Mental Health Collective: You can locate resources for AAPI mental health and a directory of active therapists in the U.S. and Canada.
Asian American Advancing Justice: AAAJ provides legal assistance (i.e., citizenship workship, translation services for voter registration, reporting AAPI hate crimes, etc.) They host events/workshops for the public.