(Op-ed) Minority Mental Health: Asians Facing Xenophobia in the Time of COVID
Updated: Jan 9
Co-Authors: Annika Toivonen and Amira Toivonen
Editor: Charlotte Wu
COVID-19 has characterized a time of chaos and emotional turmoil for the international population. While this virus has severely impacted global public health, there is another area that may be equally impacted amid this pandemic—mental health, especially minority mental health.
Photo Credit:Asian American Commission
The World Health Organization stresses that “[f]ear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats…[s]o it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing [these emotions] in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Asian Americans have been exposed to bigotry from other members of society, most of whom come from positions of privilege. Human Rights Watch states that “[i]ncreases in racist rhetoric have coincided with increases in racist attacks…people of Asian descent have been subjected to attacks and beatings, violent bullying, threats, racist abuse, and discrimination that appear linked to the pandemic.”
As COVID-19 was first detected in the city of Wuhan, many are claiming that Asian people are the demographic responsible pandemic, as if ethnicity itself can be a virus. Hate speech and racist comments have been a consistent trend in the media due to an unfair grouping of the Asian population, especially in world leaders. Brazil’s education minister, Abraham Weintraub, claimed in a tweet that the pandemic was part of the Chinese “plan for world domination”. Donald Trump continued to perpetuate this xenophobia by consistently referring to COVID-19 as the “Kung-flu” and the “Chinese virus”.
Because of the violence and stereotypes that are emphasized with COVID-19, it is no surprise that Asians are likewise experiencing severe mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other debilitating diagnoses. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, “Suicide was the 8th leading cause of death for Asian-Americans, whereas it was the 11th leading cause of death for all racial groups combined [in 2007].” These statistics are a result of the immense pressure Asian Americans suffer by being stereotyped as the “model minority”.
Photo Credit: American School in Doha
According to the Counseling and Mental Health Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the model minority stereotype for Asians is defined as “the cultural expectation…that each individual [in the racial community] will be smart, wealthy, hard-working, docile, and spiritually enlightened.”
Author Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn, Ed.D, a professional development trainer with Teaching Tolerance, stated that “[t]he model minority myth hides the pressures and paradoxes inherent within an Asian American identity. If you don’t fit into the myth, it is hard to find your place at all.”
The model minority myth lumps the diversity of everyone with Asian descent in one group. An individual with an Asian background from Malaysia is drastically different from that of Thailand, China, Vietnam, etc. This creates harsh prejudices against the Asian community, especially in light of COVID-19, where stereotypes against the Asian community are already heightened.
Although it takes a tremendous amount of effort to change a stereotype or a generalization against a group of people, work needs to be done as 2020 progresses so that people take responsibility for the harsh words and generalizations they place upon others.
The hate speech and negative slurs that are publicized by the media are becoming common phrases that those in the Asian community have to hear daily. Having a little bit more empathy towards others’ situations is how communities can avoid conflict and embrace what makes each other different.
COVID-19 has impacted every single individual. From the economy suffering serious hardships, to people quarantining without the comfort of others, everybody is affected by this pandemic. Despite these impacts on individuals, people must find other ways to cope instead of bullying an innocent population who is suffering through the same consequences of COVID-19.
Instead of xenophobia, it should be routine to have a fear of apathy, a fear of conflict, and a fear of hate. But until we, as a society, stop the discrimination of Asians in our global community, this mindset will never come to be a reality.
Need help or additional resources to cope with stress? The American Psychological Association has provided a list of addresses, links, and articles to help Asians and Pacific Islanders which can be found here.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of ECC, and our publication of opinions alone is not an endorsement of them.