Mental Health and Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Youth
The Harmful Effects of Stereotypes
“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 15–24 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.
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.