Mental Health and Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Youth

The Harmful Effects of Stereotypes

Posted August 23, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Teens of Asian Indian descent have fun hanging out together.

No, where are you real­ly from?”

Peo­ple of Asian and Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander (NHPI) descent are sub­ject­ed to this harm­ful and exclu­sion­ary ques­tion every day in our nation. Though it may seem insignif­i­cant, it advances the per­pet­u­al for­eign­er stereo­type, which oth­ers Asian Amer­i­can (AA) and NHPI populations.

Research has shown that this stereo­type is pre­dic­tive of psy­cho­log­i­cal inter­nal­iz­ing prob­lems among these youth, and stud­ies have con­firmed that reg­u­lar expe­ri­ences with racial dis­crim­i­na­tion are linked to men­tal health prob­lems for kids. Like the mod­el minor­i­ty” label, the per­pet­u­al for­eign­er” stereo­type can be par­tic­u­lar­ly dam­ag­ing to ado­les­cents and young adults, as they are still form­ing their iden­ti­ties and going through crit­i­cal devel­op­men­tal phases.

The Men­tal Health Cri­sis and Asian Amer­i­can Youth

It may not be sur­pris­ing, then, that numer­ous reports and stud­ies have doc­u­ment­ed a grow­ing men­tal health cri­sis among AA and NHPI youth. Among the findings:

  • Sui­cides have risen dra­mat­i­cal­ly among AA youth over the past two decades, surg­ing by 140% between 1998 and 2018. This is the largest increase of all racial and eth­nic groups accord­ing to a 2022 arti­cle in the jour­nal Pol­i­cy Insights from the Behav­ioral and Brain Sci­ences.
  • In 2019, sui­cide was the lead­ing cause of death nation­wide for both NHPI and AA young peo­ple ages 1524 accord­ing to a 2022 report by the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress.
  • Approx­i­mate­ly 1 in 5 high school stu­dents who self-iden­ti­fied as Asian (18%) and NHPI (21%) seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered attempt­ing sui­cide in 2021 accord­ing to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behav­ior Sur­vey. This fig­ure increased from 17% in 2011 for NHPI stu­dents and remained fair­ly even for AA students.
  • The same sur­vey found that the share of stu­dents who actu­al­ly made a plan to com­mit sui­cide also increased between 2011 and 2021, from 13% to 20% for NHPI youth and 14% to 17% for AA youth.
  • Near­ly 2 in 5 AA and NHPI high school stu­dents feel per­sis­tent sad­ness or hope­less­ness. Over the decade of 2011 to 2021, the CDC sur­vey found that stu­dents expe­ri­enc­ing per­sis­tent feel­ings of sad­ness or hope­less­ness jumped from 31% to 39% for NHPI youth and 29% to 35% for AA& youth.

Dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data on men­tal health for spe­cif­ic AA and NHPI pop­u­la­tions is great­ly need­ed and would help in iden­ti­fy­ing and address­ing dif­fer­ent needs among groups. While these find­ings col­lapse pop­u­la­tions togeth­er and mask dif­fer­ences, they are still deeply con­cern­ing, espe­cial­ly giv­en that NHPI and AA pop­u­la­tions have the low­est rates of men­tal health ser­vice uti­liza­tion of all racial and eth­nic groups accord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources.

Advo­ca­cy is urgent­ly need­ed to pro­vide addi­tion­al men­tal health sup­port for AA and NHPI youth. Tar­get­ed out­reach may be nec­es­sary to help over­come bar­ri­ers to ser­vice uti­liza­tion. Pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor lead­ers can help strength­en school-based and fam­i­ly sup­port ser­vices as well as address anti-Asian hate crimes, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and bul­ly­ing. Pro­fes­sion­als who work with chil­dren and youth should receive train­ing on racial stereo­types and their impact on youth, trau­ma-informed prac­tices and how to detect men­tal health prob­lems and link youth to appro­pri­ate services.

Watch a Webi­nar on Com­mu­ni­cat­ing About Men­tal Health

A Note About Language

We use the term Asian Amer­i­cans” in this post to refer to both Asian immi­grants and U.S. cit­i­zens of Asian descent, as the term reflects the vast major­i­ty of this pop­u­la­tion, espe­cial­ly among children.

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