Mental health is a state of health that includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Much like our physical health, mental health is complex and constantly evolving as it affects how we think, feel, and behave. It affects our daily lives and influences how we handle stress, relate to others, and make decisions.
Because there are so many factors that affect wellbeing, understanding mental health through intersectionality is crucial when providing holistic and personalized healthcare. Intersectionality is a term that was first coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, which describes the overlapping social factors that make up a person’s identity in relation to systems of oppression. Rather than looking at individual social factors as singular entities, like race, gender, or ability, intersectionality looks at how the culmination of social factors affect one another and determine people’s unique experiences in the context of society. It is an important framework through which we can understand a person’s mental health and background to better provide comprehensive care.
Multiple social, psychological and biological factors affect mental health, and its extent can depend on stressors related to trauma, discrimination, socioeconomic status, life changes, human right violations, and so much more. Several race-based issues come into play and can be exacerbated when considering factors like gender, sexuality, legal status. With portrayals of the perpetual foreigner stereotype and model minority myth, many Asian communities face identity challenges due to unrealistic expectations and cultural stigma. These portrayals perpetuate a singular narrative about AAPI communities, ignoring the diverse and complex history of Asian groups, which include trauma from wartime and colonialization in many South and Southeast Asian groups, and the shared fight for Civil Rights alongside the Black community. False expectations and invalidation of the Asian American experience attribute to the lack of mental health treatment. Asian Americans are the least likely racial group to seek mental health services, around three times less likely compared to other racial groups in the US. Additionally, insurance access and language barriers prevent Asian Americans from getting treatment.
Higher quality mental health care is more readily available for people of a higher socioeconomic status. Those who are unhoused, incarcerated, or living in poverty experience high risk of mental health issues and gaps in healthcare. However, because the model minority myth portrays AAPI groups as high achieving and high earning, AAPI narratives of struggle and poverty are often erased in society, ignoring the mental health needs of Asian groups.
With the current sociopolitical climate, mental health resources that serve the needs of the people are more important now than ever. Systems of oppression create disparities in people’s access to adequate resources and healthcare. Mental health awareness and community resources have the capacity to greatly combat stigma and improve the disparities in mental health. Thus, applying an intersectional framework when understanding and assessing mental health is an important first step to being able to provide holistic care.
Rachel Chau (she/her)
I am one of the REACH interns this summer and my long-term project is about mental health awareness with the IBH department.
I first learned about intersectionality through studying critical race theory in debate. That, coupled with interests in healthcare, motivated me to bridge the knowledge between the two throughout college. I decided to write about the intersectionality of mental health because I’m extremely passionate about the topic and believe that intersectionality in medicine is a key component of healing, building trust, and providing comfort in healthcare processes. In my time at AHS, I have seen the impact and importance of applying intersectionality into primary care, as well as being exposed to a wide range of fields within a community health clinic.