Updated: May 23, 2020
May is both API Heritage Month as well as Mental Health Awareness Month. Sadly COVID-19 has brought the two worlds together in a very painful way. There has always been anti-Asian sentiment but the sheer magnitude of COVID-19’s impact in terms of loss of life and economic devastation has fueled the flames of racism against those of Asian descent who are being blamed for this global pandemic. There are those who even go so far as referring this as the “China Virus”. Refusing to accept responsibility that such language is not only inaccurate, it is also dangerous in its racist overtones and places Asians at greater risk for hate crimes.
COVID-19 presents a unique set of challenges given its unprecedented global impact. On 9-11 there was a loss of 2,977 lives. As of May 1, 2020 there have been 64,871 been deaths and 1,109,508 cases attributed to COVID-19 in the United States alone. The economic impact has been equally devastating with millions of jobs being lost at unprecedented rates. Businesses and schools have been closed and people are being asked to maintain social distancing, resulting in extreme isolation for some.
Needless to say this has had a profound impact on the mental health of everyone, regardless of race, age, gender, or place of birth. One positive unintended consequence of COVID-19 is the awareness that mental health can affect anyone. Acknowledging that anxiety, depression, or thoughts of suicide are normal reactions to a crisis helps remove the stigma associated with mental health. It is also exactly this type of crisis that requires consistent and reliable leadership that can help calm fears by creating realistic solutions based on accurate information. Unfortunately that is not the case which has resulted in negative consequences for Asian Americans.
Asian Americans not only experience the same mental health issues as others, they are also at greater risk of experiencing emotional trauma due to racist attacks. Oppression in any form is unacceptable but racism has its own form trauma. A person can be seen as “inferior” or “less desirable” due to their social economic status or physical appearance. While it may be difficult, there is the potential to change their situation to be more “acceptable”. Racism, however is an attack that goes to the core of who a person is. Bullying, racial attacks and other acts of aggression challenge not only one’s physical safety but also their emotional safety and can make it difficult for a person to feel safe identifying as Asian American. There is also the impact of racism on a persons health. Racism is a driving force of the social determinants of health (like housing, education and employment) and is a barrier to health equity.
Mental HEALTH is also about taking care of one’s self, and understanding the relationship between the body, mind and spirit. NAAPIMHA developed the Achieving Whole Health training to help create healthy communities. It has worked with AANHPI serving agencies and organizations throughout the country to learn how to make healthy decisions, how to improve one’s mental health by going for walks, eating healthy, improving sleep habits, meditation, strengthening support systems and embracing one’s culture.
The focus on mental health in light of COVID19 has been essential but it is equally important to remember that May is also API Heritage month. It is a time to celebrate who we are as Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Now more than ever, it is important to claim own our identity and not allow racist attitudes dictate who we are.
Please join NAAPIMHA and its partners for the May 15th Round Table Shining a Light on APIA Mental Health in the time of COVID-19 by registering at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_yqGaD_H4SrOV2f5kZX1DFg
The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, NCAPA has put together an API COVID-19 task as well as calendar of events for May http://ncapa.org