Eric Nam, Tracy Chou, PIH Experts Discuss Racism And Mental Health

Panel explores mental health impact of racism amid COVID-19 

Posted on May 25, 2021

PIH recently hosted a virtual event on racism and mental health.

Racial violence, police brutality, and other forms of racism don’t just affect the physical safety of Black, Asian, Latinx, and Indigenous people—racism also affects mental health.

Yet, for many people of color, mental health care remains costly, hard to access, and stigmatized.

Panelists discussed these challenges and more during a virtual event organized by Partners In Health on May 20, in light of Mental Health Action Day and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

The panel included Eric Nam, singer-songwriter and entrepreneur; Tracy Chou, founder and CEO of Block Party; Dr. Ksakrad Kelly, PIH cross-site mental health psychotherapy technical advisor; and Dr. Mary Yang, PIH psychiatrist consultant. The conversation was moderated by PIH writer and editor Janissa Delzo.

“Systemic racism is something that is quite violent and traumatizing,” Kelly said during the virtual event. “It is something that is embedded in every aspect of our society and culture—from where we live, to the food we eat, to the resources we have access to…it’s a constant presence.”

The panel comes amid ongoing racial violence in the United States, from the murders of Black people by police to COVID-related violence against Asian Americans. Across the U.S., COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, as well as low-income Asian Americans, due to decades of systemic racism.

The panelists discussed how systemic racism, colonialism, and the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade affect the mental health of people of color, translating to racial stress and trauma that is carried in the body and mind.

“Because of the rise of hate crimes…when we have all these things coming together, I think we all right now, as AAPI in the States, we live with high anxiety, stress, and paranoia,” said Nam. “I think it’s all been exacerbated by COVID-19.”

The panelists also interrogated the word “resiliency”—a term that is often used to describe marginalized communities, but that shifts the focus to the individual, rather than the system that created the harm.

“People who we think of as the most resilient rarely see that as a compliment,” said Yang. “I think people want justice.”

For Chou, that justice includes grappling with the complexity of anti-Asian racism, shaped by decades of colonialism, imperialism, and war in Asia, as well as the model minority myth in the U.S.—an insidious lie that claims Asians are more successful than other races, particularly Black people, due to their work ethic. The myth actively harms Black communities and obscures the real challenges that Asian Americans face.

"It really is an anti-Black racist tool that’s meant to sever communities of color and pit Asians against Black people,” said Chou. “So there’s still that white supremacy underlying all of these conversations.”

Panelists left the audience with a simple yet crucial message: You are not alone.

“I just want to encourage whoever may be going through difficult times, to really reach out for help, and not be afraid of it,” said Nam. “If you’re struggling, ask for help. If you’re not struggling, look to help somebody.”

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