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May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Herit

May is both Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, and we want to use this opportunity to highlight the importance of mental health within the Asian American community. Attention to these stories is long overdue, and we are glad to see the stigma surrounding topics like cultural identity and transgenerational trauma being broken and highlighted in movies such as Turning Red and Everything Everywhere All at Once. At reflect, we are very proud to have a diverse team that includes members from a variety of different AAPI backgrounds. Our founder, Jonathan TranPham, recently sat down with Asian American podcast Thrive Spice to discuss his experience growing up as a child of Vietnamese refugees (first generation immigrants) in Texas. While everyone’s story is different, there are some interesting common themes shared between Jonathan’s story, these recent movies, and the experiences of our other AAPI team members that highlight the importance of Asian mental health.

Transgenerational trauma

Jonathan’s family came to America as refugees during the Vietnam War. For many first generation immigrants and refugees, leaving everything they’ve known to go to another country with a large language barrier can be challenging and even life threatening. Many of these families never had the time, awareness, or tools to process their experiences and manage their mental health. Instead they were forced by circumstances to move forward to survive. These suppressed experiences can lead to feelings of fear, anxiety, and scarcity which over time become transgenerational trauma and toxic patterns of behavior affecting the mental health of not only themselves, but their family members as well.

Relationship with parents

Trauma can impact how many Asian American children are raised. When one’s family leaves their country, the stakes for success can feel extremely high, leading to anxiety, scarcity, and black and white thinking. This can cause parents to put a lot of pressure on their young children.

In the podcast, Jonathan talks about his strict Asian mother and how his upbringing impacted his own mental health. His mother raised him with very rigid standards for success in school from young. While he knew that she loved him very much, that love was often not vocalized. This type of experience can cause many children to struggle with anxiety and self-worth at a very early age which can manifest in different ways across their relationships with themselves and others throughout their lives.

“Model minority” myth

The danger when talking about any group of people is that experiences are lumped together or brushed over. For a long time, the “model minority” myth fed a mistaken narrative that apparent success by some Asian Americans somehow “proved” opportunities are fair or equal for others. We now understand that this is far from true. Just like with toxic masculinity, putting specific groups of people into boxes can do more to confine them and create barriers than to support them. It also oversimplifies and undercuts complex stories and struggles and blinds us to opportunities to make positive change. For example, in the podcast, Jonathan discusses how research indicates that education outcomes still vary widely among AAPI sub-groups (e.g., low graduation rates among Vietnamese, Laotian, and Hmong communities) and brings awareness to how Asian Americans are still underrepresented in startups and executive positions.

LGBTQIA+ pride month

Intersectionality is an important topic in mental health, since each of our different experiences impact who we are. With LGBTQIA+ Pride Month coming up in a few days, we thought it would also be good to highlight this. In this interview, Jonathan highlights his experience of not feeling a sense of belonging as an Asian among the gay community, and the important role therapy has played in his journey of self-acceptance. It is worth noting that of the over 11 million adults who identify as LGBTQIA+ in the US, 3% of them are AAPI, and the rate of depression for these adults is 3X that of straight-identifying AAPIs. If you are interested in learning more about the issues discussed, we encourage you to check out Jonathan’s full interview on the Thrive Spice podcast. His is just one of the many interesting AAPI stories highlighted on this channel.

The future

The future is looking optimistic. While we continue to see violence against the AAPI community at alarming rates, we are also seeing more diverse AAPI stories, demands for greater representation, and a changing narrative that focuses on acceptance and inclusion. We hope this encourages people to know that they are not alone in their struggles and gives young AAPIs role models to look up to and identify with. Change is happening. We are happy to see that the stigma and barriers around mental health is decreasing, particularly among the AAPI community, which has long been resistant to therapy due to their unique cultural values. There are many more resources today to improve our mental health. Each of us is doing our own work to process and heal from trauma and pain and break the cycle. When we learn more about ourselves, and are provided the skills to deal with our feelings, we can prevent ourselves from unknowingly passing them on to our children. At reflect, we are proud that our community of therapists are 40% therapists of color, including many different AAPI backgrounds. If you’re curious about discussing any of the topics or exploring your own experience or cultural identity, click here to get matched to a therapist today.


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