10 Culturally Affirming, Expert-Recommended Mental Health Resources for the AAPI Community


No matter what you look like or where you come from, deciding you need a little help dealing with your mental health can be empowering and overwhelming all at once. And that can be especially true for people who are part of the

AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community, where talking about mental wellbeing is often taboo, and seeking aid for it even more hush-hush.

“There’s often this cultural value of honor,” says Kaila Tang, L.M.S.W., the chief of programming at Asian Mental Health Collective. “We’re trying to appear at our best, and the idea that someone could be mentally ill — to a lot of people — goes against that notion of saving face, or being honorable, which makes it very difficult for people to talk about.”

Financial and linguistic barriers, as well as the still-present stigma around issues in general, are also hurdles that may prevent many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from asking for or receiving the support they need, Tang adds.

All the work that still needs to be done within the AAPI community, society and the greater professional mental health industry that exists to help us all, is exactly why it’s so important to talk about it. So that people in these marginalized communities feel more confident about and equipped to seek out resources. After all, your mental and physical wellbeing go hand in hand, so it’s important to cater to both to stay healthy and strong.

Why it’s hard for many AAPI individuals to ask for help.

As we mentioned, culture is frequently at the crux of what prevents people of AAPI background from reaching out. Cultural values differ between AAPI cultures, Judy Ho, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist and author of Stop Self-Sabotage: Six Steps to Unlock Your True Motivation, explains some common threads:

  • Living with mental health problems makes you weak and can be seen as a character weakness.
  • Certain cultures still hold on to traditional ideas, such as having mental health concerns makes you unsuitable for things like marriage or taking over the family business. “There can be a lot of consequences tied to it,” Dr. Ho says.
  • Stoicism—or, not expressing your emotions, particularly negative ones—is prevalent.
  • The concept of keeping “secrets” within the family still exists. “Many times it’s frowned upon to let outsiders see that you’re struggling or dealing with conflict,” says Dr. Ho.
  • Some cultures teach that you should value their collective group goals or ideals over your own. “Even for people who grew up here, these values can still be very pervasive down the generations because the sentiments are often passed down,” Dr. Ho says.

The way many AAPI individuals feel as they go about their day-to-day, the disheartening and frightening things that they may experience (such as the uptick in xenophobic rhetoric against Asian Americans in the United States during the pandemic) or the way they’ve conditioned themselves to respond to things like microaggressions also play a role in someone’s desire or perceived ability to explore mental health support. “Many times we think ‘I should be able to handle it’ or we feel guilty or ashamed for feeling upset about something we experience—but it’s okay to not be okay sometimes,” says Dr. Ho.

The best way to support an AAPI friend or loved one.

Whether you can relate to what someone is going through or not, start by listening to what they have to say about how they’re feeling. “When appropriate, share any personal stories you feel could help them not feel so isolated and alone, so that could be a shared cultural experience or just the fact that you also struggle with the thoughts and feelings they’re experiencing. But do so without making the situation about you,” says Dr. Ho.

Ask how you can be supportive to them, what they need from you and don’t automatically push therapy—if they bring it up or seem to be grappling with their decision to take that therapy leap, then that’s the time to offer affirmation and encouragement, Dr. Ho adds.

How to find culturally-affirming mental health support.

Discovering who belongs in your support system and matching with the right psychologist or therapist is a process for anyone, and on the therapy side of it, it often takes a few tries before you find someone who’s the best fit for you. When it comes to AAPI individuals who may be very nuanced in how they want or need to be understood, that “perfect match” or who they choose to let into their inner circle can feel particularly important. “It’s all about finding somebody—whether it’s casual support like a friend, or a therapist—who is willing to be open-minded and understands how these values play a role,” says Dr. Ho. “Strive to find people who you can be honest with about why you haven’t sought help or haven’t always been able to open up. The right people will be able to meet you where you are, and they’ll accept that these are your realities.”

We’ve rounded up AAPI-specific mental health resources that might help you find the type of support you’re looking for.

*Additional reporting by Adele Jackson-Gibson.

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