By Helen Gu for Athena Music & Wellness Therapy

Asian American Mental Health 

The umbrella term “AAPI” stands for “Asian American and Pacific Islanders”, and encompasses a diverse range of cultures, communities, experiences, nationalities, and identities in the United States. Each community within the AAPI umbrella faces their own unique set of challenges. For example, the experience of a third generation Chinese-American varies greatly from that of a first-generation Filipino-American or native Hawaiian. Despite these differences, AAPI communities in the United States face many similar challenges when it comes to mental health. 


There are over 20 million people (6.1 percent of the total population) who identify as Asian/Pacific Islander in the United States. Mental health issues are on the rise within the AAPI community, according to a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2018. Serious Mental Illness cases rose from 2.9 to 5.6 percent between 2008 and 2018 amongst AAPI young adults aged 18-25. The AAPI community also saw a rise in major depressive episodes between 2015 and 2018 in youth aged 12-17, young adults aged 18-25, and adults aged 26-49. 


Despite the increasing prevalence of mental illness in the AAPI community, AAPI adults are the least likely group to seek help through mental health services (3 times less likely than their white peers), according to SAMHSA. This may be due to a combination of cultural differences, language barriers, and religious beliefs, among other things. AAPIs are often thought to experience better economic stability and education than other groups, a stereotype known as the “model minority” myth. This societal expectation, combined with family/cultural expectations to succeed, create stressful conditions for members of the AAPI community that could account for the rise in mental health conditions. Additionally, stigmas still surround discussions about mental health in Asian-American communities. (Miller et al. 2011) Those struggling with mental health conditions may find it difficult to find adequate support from friends, family, or healthcare professionals as a result. These factors, combined with a lack of representation in mental health services and other barriers to care, may account for the observed trends in Asian-American mental health. 




How Music Therapy can Help


Enter Music Therapy, an unconventional but promising approach to addressing the mental health crisis. Music Therapy utilizes music within a therapeutic setting to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. Treatment plans are individualized according to a patient’s needs by a licensed music therapist. Research has demonstrated promising applications for a variety of mental health conditions, including but not limited to: dementia, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s Disease, autism, and sleep disorders. 


For AAPI communities, music therapy could prove to be a promising alternative solution to conventional therapy methods for addressing the AAPI mental health crisis. Music is a universal form of expression and communication that spans language and cultural boundaries. Audiences of all ages, linguistic backgrounds, and cultures can enjoy the same forms of music. Language differences and a general discomfort surrounding talk about mental health may prevent many AAPI individuals from engaging in traditional forms of mental health support, such as group therapy sessions or seeing a regular therapist. Since music therapy uses non-verbal expressions to develop a bond between the therapist and patient, it may allow for better connection and understanding between AAPIs and therapists who may not share the same cultural upbringing. Additionally, engaging in music creation and instrument playing through music therapy can provide alternate ways of expression and an alternative outlet for members of the AAPI community who may be hesitant about voicing their mental health struggles directly. As music is highly valued among AAPI cultures, and many Asian-American children are encouraged to play instruments growing up, music therapy may also prove to be a more acceptable form of therapy for AAPI communities compared to traditional psychotherapy methods. Equipped with cultural awareness and knowledge of the specific mental health needs of the AAPI population, music therapists have the potential to make a difference in the lives of Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities in the United States. 


How Athena Can Help

Athena Music & Wellness Therapy is a global wellness solutions provider specializing in clinical music therapy, music therapist education, wellness technology, and music therapist licensing. Our professors and music therapists are European-board (AICQ SICEV) certified and specialize in a variety of music therapy techniques. Our experts work with a diverse range of mental health conditions and patient populations, with experience providing music therapy in 3 different continents. We offer both teletherapy and in-person music therapy appointments. For more information or to request an appointment, please visit our website: 






  • “2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Asians/Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI).” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2018. 

  • Miller, Matthew J., et al. “Racial and Cultural Factors Affecting the Mental Health of Asian Americans.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, vol. 81, no. 4, 2011, pp. 489–497., doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.2011.01118.x.