Photo: MGN Online

By Yaminah Muhammad

In recent years, mental health awareness has grown into a leading global issue. And with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently classifying mental illnesses among the most common health conditions in the U.S., the interest and concern regarding mental health continues to rise. As a result, individuals along with the general public are able to take an indepth look into their own mental health and that of their communities.

However, despite this global rise in interest in mental health, members of some communities believe more attention still needs to be geared toward the psychological and emotional struggles they face. This is particularly true for members of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities who are oftentimes overlooked and underserved.

So, to increase awareness of mental health issues in AANHPI communities, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and AAPI Data, based at UC Riverside, published a 67-page report detailing the psychological toll burdening these communities.


The report, titled “Piecing the Puzzle of AANPI Mental Health: A Community Analysis of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Mental Health Experiences in California,” connects survey data with community experiences impacted by cultural nuances, U.S. foreign policy and intergenerational trauma.

Using data collected from 2020-2022, the report provides a granular examination of mental health experiences for Asian Americans and eight NHPI subgroups: Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders, Vietnamese, Filipino, South Asian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.

“The goal of the report is to spur a more nuanced discourse on mental health for Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Asian American communities,” said Ninez A. Ponce, director of the UCLA CHPR and one of the report’s authors.

In addition to spurring a more nuanced discourse on mental illnesses in AANHPI communities, the report also aims to increase the utilization of mental health care services by members of these communities.

The data in the report reveals that approximately one in four Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander adults and one in six Asian American adults reported needing mental health support. However, despite their self-reported need for professional help, research suggests that the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations have some of the lowest reported rates of mental health service utilization when compared to other racial groups.

Additionally, even when AANHPI populations do pursue mental health care services, they are likely to still struggle. According to the report, 42 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and 31 percent of Asian Americans reported experiencing difficulties accessing mental health care services when seeking to utilize them—citing cost, lack of insurance, and not knowing their options.

These factors led to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR) and AAPI Data’s mission to develop the extensive report.

“Community-informed research is foundational to addressing the distinct mental health needs of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities,” founder and director of AAPI Data and professor of public policy at UC Riverside, Ph.D., Karthick Ramakrishnan said.

“This report goes a long way toward piecing the puzzle of AANHPI mental health by uplifting new data on mental health indicators, barriers to receiving care, and recommendations to overcome them,” he continued.

Additionally, with the AANHPI population accounting for less than 10 percent of all mental health professionals across the United States, a lack of AANHPI and culturally competent health care providers was also cited in the report as a troubling barrier between AANHPI and mental health services. This also contributes to the low rates in which members of these communities receive the proper mental health care.

With a notably high shortage of AANHPI providers throughout the professional mental health field, researchers suggest expanding training and support on culturally and linguistically aligned care for the existing mental health workforce and increasing the number of AANHPI health providers moving forward.

Laying out their recommendations, researchers declare that an increase in culturally aware and AANHPI health providers as effective ways to combat these existing cultural divides in health care. The recommendations if implemented would provide these communities a safe space to heal their mental health illnesses—many of which reportedly stem from mutigenerational societal discrimination and stigmas, the report notes.

While mental health concerns permeating AANHPI communities can seem like an uphill battle, work is being done to address the issues. Many organizations are working to bring awareness to and remedy mental health illnesses within AANHPI communities. Some of the groups fighting this battle include:

The National Asian America Pacific Islander Mental Health Association (NAAPIMHA), AANHPI’s Ohana Center of Excellence, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (AANHPI, a program spearheaded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).