Mindpath Health’s Leela Magavi, M.D. discusses what came out of the #StopAsianHate movement one year after the Atlanta shootings.

Anti-Asian discrimination in the US dates back to the Chinese Exclusion Act, as passed in 1882 to prevent Chinese laborers from immigrating to the country for a period of 10 years, but many lack awareness of this history.

An uptick in anti-Asian violence fueled by COVID-19 and xenophobic political rhetoric birthed the #StopAsianHate movement, but a great deal of work remains to be done to address the issue.

The Increase in Anti-Asian Racism

On March 19, 2020, the Stop AAPI Hate coalition was launched to advance equity, justice, and power by dismantling racism and building a movement to address anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate.

According to the Stop AAPI Hate Mental Health Report, Asian Americans who have experienced racism are more stressed by anti-Asian hate than the COVID-19 pandemic itself, with 1 in 5 of them reporting racial trauma.

A recently published study in Behavioral Medicine found that Asians experienced more internalized racism and perceived a change in everyday discrimination during the pandemic, as compared to Latinx participants.

Working in Solidarity Against Bigotry

Senior Vice President for Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc. (CPACS), Victoria Huynh, says that she remembers submitting grants on March 16, 2021, when she heard the news of this local hate crime tragedy.

Huynh is Chinese herself and has worked for CPACS for 13 years. She says, “We were worried, angry and scared, for ourselves, and for our family. Everything was just kind of on hold because there was a lot of worry.”

Huynh describes how they got on a call the next morning with community organizers and service providers to explore safety concerns. “Our staff were really upset. I had a few come into my office and just burst into tears because they saw their parents, their moms, and their grandmas in the faces in the names of the victims that were killed.”

Over the last year since this tragedy, CPACS has continued to support AAPI communities in Atlanta, Georgia, and beyond, as Huynh explains, “We went into rapid response mode, and honestly didn’t really have time to kind of grieve and sit with it. And even a year after, we’re still grieving.”

Huynh notes, “We were one of many organizations serving victims of the families right after the shooting, providing social services, so we got a number of calls from those who are directly involved. We have lawyers and community organizers working with families reaching out for assistance.”

In terms of other tangible examples of how support was provided, Huynh explains, “We were connecting individuals with mental health providers because a lot of people calling in really needed someone to talk to.”

To better understand their needs, CPACS had begun community listening sessions with AAPI college students even before the Atlanta shootings but continued them following the tragedy, through which, Huynh notes they connected with about 250 members of the AAPI communities locally.

Although Huynh was born and raised in the US, she says that she had someone roll down their window and tell her to go back to her country, resulting in part from politicians calling COVID-19 “the China Flu.”

To address worry in AAPI communities, CPACS has developed informational resources with strategies in a variety of languages for how AAPI victims of hate crimes, as well as bystanders and allies can respond after such events.

Given the impact of this anti-Asian hate crime, Huynh notes that there is a need for sustained investments and resources for families and victims who have yet to come forward to report violence or discrimination.

Huynh says, “We built this public infrastructure to support us. We’re not working just in terms of the AAPI community. We are working in solidarity with the African American communities, the Latinx communities, LGBTQ communities, and many other marginalized communities as well.”

Cultural Shame May Be Internalized

Ariel Landrum, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified art therapist, and the clinical director of Guidance Teletherapy, says, “According to the American Psychological Association, early research has linked the uptick in anti-Asian discrimination to increases in anxiety, depressive symptoms, and sleep problems among those targeted.”

Landrum makes reference to The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, as she says, “Despite a long history of harm to the community, it took publicized violence for people to open their eyes to the plights experienced by the AAPI community. Getting help isn’t always straightforward.”

Unfortunately, Landrum notes that AAPI individuals are less likely to access therapy, partly because of the cultural bias against receiving mental health services, but also due to a lack of culturally relevant approaches.

Landrum explains, “The AAPI community does indeed experience direct violence, but there needs to be aware that microaggressions and systemic barriers have also impacted the community, increasing mental unwellness.”

One of the struggles experienced that increase feelings of disconnection, misunderstanding, and loneliness are that AAPI members are perpetually seen as outsiders, according to Landrum. “Being painted with the lens that we are forever foreign increases many experiences of microaggressions and causes internalized shame around our culture,” she says.

The more that cultural practices and traditions are celebrated, Landrum notes that it can increase self-appreciation and validation of identity. “Developing support networks with others in our community is also necessary to feel connection and understanding,” she says.

Landrum recommends donating to AAPI communities, supporting Asian-owned businesses and getting educated on the current climate of AAPI hate. “Be a present and vocal ally by consciously sharing and raising awareness. Openly take a stand against hate and racism in all forms,” she says.

Public Policy Efforts Are Needed

Hopkins-trained psychiatrist and regional medical director for Mindpath Health, Leela R. Magavi, MD, says, “I have evaluated Asian American children and adolescents who have conveyed that they have experienced increased bullying at school.”

Magavi notes that some children have shared that they were told to go back to their country, despite being from the US, or hearing that they ruined the country, while adults have shared experiences of discrimination at work.

Model minority stereotypes and stereotypes in general can lead to debilitating anxiety and perfectionism, according to Magavi. “It can exacerbate feelings of imposter syndrome,” she says.

Magavi explains, “Imposter syndrome can affect minority groups disproportionately. Stereotypes can cause demoralization and worsen mood and anxiety symptoms. It can also lead to increased cortisol levels, which impact the body in many detrimental ways.”

Online support groups, cultural forums and religious events allow individuals to assuage their fears and educate one another in a culturally sensitive manner, according to Magavi. “I attempt to educate all the Asian American families I evaluate in clinic and know in my community and encourage others to join public policy efforts,” she says.

Magavi notes, “There are many Asian American therapists and psychiatrists who are bilingual and trilingual. Individuals can find these clinicians by calling their insurance or using an online therapy directory.”

In her practice, Magavi treats patients who may have been traumatized, and warrant antidepressants to treat comorbid anxiety and depressive symptoms. “I ask my patients to differentiate their various emotions; journaling can simplify this often-difficult activity,” she says.

Positive affirmations and gratitude letters to oneself could bolster self-compassion, according to Magavi. “Visualizing success and imagining victories could alleviate anticipatory anxiety,” she says.

Magavi explains, “Therapy may help undo negative patterns of thinking and behavior. Conversing with peers in support groups could also help many individualize normalize their experiences and process their feelings.”

Medical schools and training programs can help by promoting cultural competency, according to Magavi. “Minority groups are often underrepresented in trials, so we need more studies to focus on these individuals,” she says.

Magavi explains, “Local and national leaders can validate the disparate ways Asian-American people are responding to this trauma to hopefully regain their trust, so we can prevent further stigmatization and trauma.”

To read the full article and learn more about what came out of the #StopAsianHate moment one year after the Atlanta Shootings, click here.

If you are a member of the AAPI community, you may want to consider if mental health support may help you to manage some of the impacts of anti-Asian hate. If you are not personally impacted, you may have an opportunity to support AAPI communities to address these issues.

Leela R Magavi, M.D.

Newport Beach, CA

Dr. Leela Magavi is a native Californian and Hopkins-trained psychiatrist committed to providing compassionate, evidence-based care to individuals of all cultural, political, religious, sexual, and socioeconomic backgrounds. She completed her adult psychiatry residency at Georgetown University Hospital, during which time she also had the invaluable experience of caring for veterans at Washington, D.C. VA. As a resident, she was awarded ... Read Full Bio »

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