Well-Being Mental Health

Majority of Asian, Asian American professionals say violence against their community has damaged mental health: poll

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have experienced a surge in anti-Asian violence that has left us in a constant state of fear, uncertainty, and frustration.”
Mai Wright holds a sign while participating in a “stop Asian hate” rally outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, March 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Gray) AP/ Ben Gray

Story at a glance

  • A new report from Coqual details the effect of anti-Asian violence and sentiment on Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals. 

  • More than 60 percent of respondents said ongoing violence has negatively affected their fear of racial discrimination. 

  • The survey also assessed how well workplaces are addressing the needs of Asian employees.

Rising rates of violence and anti-Asian sentiment are taking a toll on Asian and Asian American professionals’ mental health, according to a new survey from Coqual, a global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion think tank. 

Sixty-three percent of respondents said the ongoing violence has negatively affected their mental health while 45 percent said it’s impacted their physical health. A total of 2,634 college-educated professionals who were employed full-time completed the survey. 

In an effort to address the diversity of experiences within the cohort of Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals, researchers broke down findings by regional background when possible. 

Of the 824 Asian participants who completed the survey, 405 identified as East Asian, 227 as South Asian, 167 as Southeast Asian and 25 as having multiple Asian backgrounds. A small survey sample size led researchers to capture the experiences of Pacific Islander populations through focus groups and interviews.

More than 60 percent of Asian and Asian American respondents said the violence has also negatively affected how safe they feel while commuting to work, while half reported it has worsened their ability to focus at work. 

“In urban areas, commuting on public transportation has changed from a routine practice to something to avoid at all costs” for some professionals, report authors wrote. 

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Hybrid and fully remote work were welcomed by many Asian and Asian American professionals in the wake of COVID-19, as some feared harassment or assault once they left their homes. However, “only 33 percent said that their remote work options met their personal needs,” explained Sy Stokes, vice president of research at Coqual in an interview with Changing America. 

“There is a huge discrepancy between those who have access to remote work options from their company, and those who actually feel it addressed their needs.” 

Findings were also more stark for Asian women professionals.

“When it came to living in a city like New York or San Francisco, or any other big cities, that commute to and from work as a woman was already something that came with a lot of stress and fear and just uncertainty. But when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of subsequent anti-Asian violence, all this did was exacerbate that issue,” Stokes said.

Survey results showed younger generations were, on average, more open to discuss issues around mental health, as older professionals may see the topic as taboo or more unfamiliar. According to Stokes, these older professionals “ didn’t really have the privilege of having access to the knowledge and education related to racism and mental health, like current generations do.” 

“While younger generations do acknowledge the importance of mental health, it’s also extremely important to remember that the access to this knowledge was granted to them by the sacrifices of our elders, and that shouldn’t go unacknowledged.” 

Although nearly 60 percent of respondents said their company offers mental health resources, just 1 in 3 say these resources address their needs very or extremely well.

Over 60 percent of Asian respondents reported ongoing violence has negatively affected their fear of racial discrimination.  

The most recent report from AAPI Data, a demographic and policy research group, showed nearly 1 in 6 Asian American adults experienced a hate crime or incident in 2021, marking an increase from the 1 in 8 who said the same in 2020. 

When asked about their experiences in the workplace, nearly half of Asian and Asian American respondents said it’s very or extremely important to them that their companies address violence against the Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander community. However, only 26 percent feel their company is very vocal about the issue. 

Asian and Asian Americans were also the least likely out of any racial group surveyed to say they have role models at their company and that they have strong networks. 

“As a Black and Chinese professional, this research was both heartbreaking and affirming, as it helped me formulate the language to help explain the injustice we are witnessing in society today,” said Stokes. “Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have experienced a surge in anti-Asian violence that has left us in a constant state of fear, uncertainty, and frustration.”

More than 1 in 3 professionals said they’ve experienced racial prejudice at their current or former companies. Several stereotypes that affect the workplace experiences of these employees include Asian and Asian Americans being seen as quiet and hardworking outsiders, report data show. 

The organization also carried out focus groups and interviews with Pacific Islander professionals.

Results showed these individuals shared some obstacles with Asian and Asian American professionals but for some, a lack of representation translated into invisibility, erasure and exclusion from diversity, equity and inclusion, as opposed to stereotypes and microaggressions. 

“Pacific Islanders were also lesser-known victims of the surge in ‘anti-Asian’ violence since 2020, as one in five Pacific Islanders experienced a hate incident between 2020 or 2021, according to a 2021 Stop AAPI Hate report,” researchers wrote.