Content warning: This post contains mentions of suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available by calling the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

The month of May brings two important observances: Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. For the next round of Science is Everyone: Voices in STEM, The Science Coalition is pleased to be joined by Dr. Lijuan “Peggy” Wang, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame who studies quantitative methods and applies them to address novel questions in developmental, family, health, and educational research.

Below, Dr. Wang addresses the mental health crisis among those who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander and how her research could stem the tide.

The convergence of Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May brings up an important conversation about the state of Asian Americans’ mental well-being. The data tell a clear story:

  • Of the more than 20 million people in the United States who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander, 15 percent reported having a mental illness in the past year.
  • In 2018, Asians were 60 percent less likely to have received mental health treatment as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
  • In 2022, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 339 percent compared to the year before, contributing to the escalating mental health crisis among Asian Americans.
  • COVID-related discrimination against Asian Americans is associated with higher odds of having depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal ideation.

As an Asian American woman working in psychology, this is an issue I care deeply about and have committed my professional career to understanding better. I’m particularly interested in improving statistical methods of modeling data so that we have clearer insights into how issues, like discrimination, affect a person’s mental health. With that knowledge, we can also design more effective intervention programs, especially for minority groups.

While I’m excited about the future of this work, the reality is that implementing these learnings will take time. In the interim, here are a few things I would say to young people contending with discrimination as they pursue their passions:

Work hard.

There is no substitute for showing up and putting in the effort.

Follow your curiosities.

We each bring something unique to the research we conduct, and if something sparks your curiosity along the way, you should be the one to chase it.

Find good mentors.

After coming to the United States from China to further my education, I met two supportive PhD mentors in quantitative psychology who served as sounding boards for me. The combination of their experience has also informed my own research interests, provided helpful perspective when I’m starting something new, and inspired me to push through in difficult moments.

Embrace interdisciplinary collaboration.

I enjoy collaborating with colleagues across diverse scientific disciplines such as education, psychology, and medicine. The dynamic exchange of ideas with researchers from different backgrounds fosters a collaborative synergy where we collectively address novel and important research questions in mental health.