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Understanding Mental Health in Celebration of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

By May 1, 2024May 10th, 2024Mental Health

May marks Asian/Pacific American Heritage (AAPI) month, an event that was first commemorated in 1979. This is the period where contributions made by the AAPI community to American history and culture are celebrated. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month which promotes the importance of mental health in our society. It is probably not a coincidence that the two events are observed in the same period.

Mental health in the Asian American community is not well-understood due to high rate of underreporting, pervasiveness, stigmatization, low rate of mental health utilization, and portrayal as the model minority. Although seemingly carrying a positive connotation, the model minority myth perpetuates not only the misleading image of collective success, but also an inaccurate perception of a race unaffected by mental health issues. Moreover, Asian ethnic subgroups are significantly underrepresented as they are often treated as a homogenous group despite much heterogeneity both inter-ethnically and intra-ethnically. For example, Korean Americans possess many different characteristics than Japanese Americans or other Asian ethnicities (e.g., East Asians, South East Asians, South Asians, etc.). Therefore, there is disproportionately more existing literature on Asian Americans aggregated than they are disaggregated.

So how do we, as clinicians, address mental health barriers for Asian Americans? Based on the model of cultural competence by (Sue et al., 1982), clinicians develop their cultural competence in practice through:


  • Clinicians should first become aware of their own biases towards the AAPI community
  • Clinicians understand how their own culturally-shaped world views influence their perceptions of their patients.


  • Clinicians should understand and familiarize themselves with the cultural, religious, and attitudinal characteristics of their AAPI patients.
  • Moreover, clinicians should become equipped with knowledge about how sociological, political and institutional systems of their country affect their patients.
  • Lastly, it is crucial for clinicians to be knowledgeable about barriers that prevent their patients of marginalized groups from acquiring care.


  • Clinicians are able to communicate with their AAPI patients. If clinicians cannot communicate effectively, clinicians should obtain an interpreter and if not possible to do so to make appropriate referrals.
  • Clinicians are equipped with and are able to apply the most recent culturally adapted interventions for their AAPI patients.

It is important to have a dedicated month to be recognized and celebrated by a country you call home. However, we should also strive to learn, understand, and advocate for marginalized groups at all times.


Sue, D. W., Bernier, J. E., Durran, A., Feinberg, L., Pedersen, P., Smith, E. J., & Vasquez-Nuttall, E. (1982). Position Paper: Cross-Cultural Counseling Competencies. The Counseling Psychologist10(2), 45–52.