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COVID-19 led to hardship for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, study shows

Royce Hall (pictured). A study by UCLA, AAPI Data and UC Riverside researchers found that the Asian American and Pacific Islander community faced negative health and economic consequences, as well as an increase in incidents of hate, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Clara Schwartz

Feb. 28, 2023 10:42 p.m.

A recent UCLA study found that the COVID-19 pandemic led to economic hardship, negative health outcomes and rising incidents of hate and violence for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The study, which was conducted by researchers from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, AAPI Data and researchers at UC Riverside, aimed to dig deeper into the needs and experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islander populations, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of public policy at UCR and an author of the study.

AAPI Data, an organization that publishes demographic data on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, received a $10 million investment in 2021 from the California State Legislature to fund its research activities, said Ramakrishnan, who is also the founder of AAPI Data. He added that this study was the first set of research activities from that grant.

Released in February, the report found that the COVID-19 pandemic led to delays in access to mental health care for people in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. These delays were not necessarily due to the financial costs, but rather, systemic barriers, said Howard Shih, managing director of AAPI Data and an author of the study.

One of the biggest barriers to accessing mental health resources in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities was a lack of awareness of the services that exist, Ramakrishnan said.

“The primary reason that people were unable to find services was that they didn’t know where to look,” Shih said.

Another systemic barrier is the low rate of Asian psychologists, said Brian Keum, assistant professor of social welfare. It can be difficult for Asian individuals to find mental health professionals equipped to help them and address experiences that are more specific to their community, he added.

The report recommends that policymakers build a stronger talent pipeline of Asian Americans in mental health fields, in addition to expanding culturally and linguistically competent care, Ramakrishnan said.

The report also found a rise in Asian American and Pacific Islander experiences with hate and discrimination since the start of the pandemic, Shih said. One in four Asian Americans surveyed reported having experienced a hate crime, and one in five Asian Americans in California reported feeling worried all the time or often about becoming a victim of hate, he said.

“Being able to acknowledge the seriousness of anti-Asian hate is really important,” Keum said.

The report also found that fear and concern over gun violence is higher in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities than reported in any other racial group, Ramakrishnan said. It is important for policymakers to understand that this is a significant concern in these communities, and conversations about gun control need to intentionally reach out to the Asian American and Pacific Islander population, he added.

The gap in disaggregated data on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities was a major source of inspiration for the study, Shih said. When this data is aggregated, it lumps people with many different languages, customs and experiences into the overarching category of Asian American, which often ends up hiding needs regarding certain issues and concerns of particular Asian groups, Shih said.

“We have been advocating for the collecting of disaggregated data on Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders so that we can have the precise data that we need to be able to measure what is happening within the many different communities that fall under that umbrella,” Shih added.

Disaggregated data collection – such as that which was done in this study – is important because it allows government agencies to more effectively provide services to groups that are underserved, Ramakrishnan said. It is critical for California to improve data collection not only on racial categories, such as Asian or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, but to dig deeper and to collect more specific data, such as whether someone is Filipino or Hmong, he said.

“We won’t know which groups are being underserved unless we collect that kind of detailed data,” he added.

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