Climate Impacts on Mental Health in AAPI Communities

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities are at greater risk of suffering from mental health issues due to a lack of holistic understanding of what it means to be healthy—and the climate crisis is making it worse.

Published: Aug 20, 2023  |  

Climate activist and board member of Action for the Climate Emergency Youth Advisory


The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The urgency of protecting our people and planet from yet another harmful pipeline project is one of the many reasons I joined Action for the Climate Emergency where I serve on the Youth Advisory Board—but there’s only so much I can change as an individual.

In order to truly relieve climate anxiety and address the root causes of the climate emergency, we need policies that prioritize people and the planet over profit. 

The topic of mental health has been an increasingly prevalent concern in society as we adapt to an ever-changing world where suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report reveals that more than 4 in 10 students feel persistently hopeless or sad and more than 1 in 5 students have seriously considered attempting suicide.

Mental health in adolescents has declined significantly over the years and we find ourselves suffering from anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation at historic rates. Mental health issues are not experienced equally across demographics though, with LGBTQ+ students, female students, and students across racial and ethnic groups experiencing higher rates of anxiety and depression than their white counterparts. What’s not often accounted for is the strong stigma of mental health in Asian American communities. 

The World Health Organization defines health to be “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Unfortunately, many Asian cultures do not adopt this holistic view of health, and mental health concerns are often considered taboo—so much so, that only 8.6% of Asian Americans seek mental health services compared to the national 18%. 

Geoffrey Liu, MD, explains that in many Asian cultures, your value as a person depends on your ability to take care of your family and community. Mental health stigma can be seen as taking away someone’s ability to care for others and their identity or purpose. Thus, it’s common for symptoms to be dismissed and denied, leaving many Asian Americans feeling invalidated that what they are experiencing is real and deserves the delivery of care. 

I seem to have hit the jackpot in terms of a predisposition to poor mental health. The climate emergency complicates things further by adding to the mental health struggles I already face while reflecting on my identity as a young Vietnamese American. I am navigating the complex experience of being Asian American during a critical window of opportunity in which we must take action in order to prevent irreversible damage due to climate change. 

Climate change is on the mind of young people globally. In the 2020 US election, the environment and climate change were in the top three most selected priorities for people aged 18-29, with Asian youth being more likely to select it as a top issue. Climate anxiety, or eco-anxiety, is a new facet of mental health that is specific to my generation and intersects heavily with my identity as an Asian American.

Filial piety is a term used in the Asian American community to describe a sense of moral obligation to act out of care and respect for one’s parents. In a similar sense, I feel a strong moral obligation to act out of care and respect for our collective provider: Earth. In the wake of global warming, this earthen filial piety results in feelings of hopelessness and climate doomism that may or may not be misplaced.

Climate anxiety can often stem from the sentiment that you as an individual are not doing all that you can to prevent the warming of our planet by 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) marks this as the threshold to stay under and demonstrates the urgency of solving the climate crisis.

Our individual actions pale in comparison to the fossil fuel industry’s contributions to global emissions. Thus, we must prioritize policy change in order to take wide-reaching action and enact change on a scale the climate crisis demands. We need policies like the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (IL), 100% Clean Energy Bill (MN), and the IRA to solve this emergency. 

Asian American youth struggle with mental health and the stigma of mental illness on top of feeling the brunt of climate anxiety and facing the frontline impacts of our dependency on fossil fuels. If the goal is to move into a future that cares for our communities of color, we must relieve the individual of the burden of climate change by enacting climate policies that hold fossil fuel companies accountable and ensure a just transition to clean energy.