How To Protect Your Mental Health Amidst a Rise in Anti-Asian Racism

Anti-Asian racism is on the rise. Inkblot Therapist Alia Chan shares tips for healing – and how allies can show their support.

The tragic murder of six Asian-American women at a spa last month in Atlanta, Georgia has put a spotlight on the disturbing rise in anti-Asian racism and hate crimes in North America since the onset of the pandemic.

According to the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate, reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in America have jumped from roughly 100 annually to 3800 since March 2020– a number experts say is just a fraction of the estimated total. In Canada, stats reflect a similar uptick: the Vancouver Police Board recently reported a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes of 717% between 2019 and 2020.

Anti-Asian sentiment and racism in North America is hardly new, however therapists are concerned about how this rise in discriminaton is impacting the Asian community’s mental health.

“Right now with my clients a lot of the feelings that are coming up are fear. Fear and an increase in sadness,”  says Alia Chan, an Inkblot therapist based in Vancouver who specializes in treating trauma and works with many Asian clients. “Some of us are scared to walk in our own neighbourhoods. I know a lot of my colleagues who are Asian have parents who don’t even want to leave the house.”

Chan warns of the long-term effects of this heightened state of stress – and trauma – on individuals, which can lead to health issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and even heart disease.

“Trauma responses occur when we’re under danger or threat. It’s that fight, flight or freeze response. It’s here to protect us,” she says. “But If we’re constantly in fear of threat, it’s not great for our minds or our body. It takes away from our sense of control over our well-being and our sense of hope.”

In the face of this ongoing stress and racial trauma, Chan offers some advice on how individuals can protect their mental health and how allies of the Asian community can support their neighbours, coworkers, loved ones and friends.

  1. Talk about it. When it comes to healing from trauma, talking about your experience can be a helpful way to process events and find validation. However, Chan stresses to go about sharing your experience at your own discretion and pace. “It can be really difficult to talk about your experience. A lot of us in the Asian community have been told not to speak up…(So) culturally sometimes that can create a conflict of values with what our parents told us,” she says. “I want to hold space for that. I think talking about your experience is going to help but first check in with yourself to see if you’re in a space where you feel safe and comfortable to do that.”
  2. Slow down and check-in with yourself. Chan stresses that it’s important to resist the temptation to ignore recent events and push on with your life like everything is normal if you’re feeling the emotional toll of this moment. “The world for a lot of people in this community has kind of stopped and I think to continue life in a similar way that you had before (Atlanta) would be unfair to your own healing,” she says. “Spend time with yourself to really process things. There are so many different layers to what has happened and really taking it day by day is important. If you need to call in sick and take a mental health day, do that.”
  3. Disconnect. Knowledge is power but the news right now can be very overwhelming – so engage with the media with caution, warns Chan. “Another way to protect your mental health right now is to disconnect when you need to. We’re not supposed to be absorbing this much information all the time – especially information that is as heavy as (anti-Asian violence). Try putting down your phone. Turn off the TV. If someone is talking to you about (anti-Asian violence) and you just don’t have the mental capacity for it, say, ‘Hey right now I’m just not in the space, can we talk later?” If you are engaging with social media or the news, Chan also suggests being really mindful of what you’re paying attention to. “Ask yourself, where is an avenue where I can find that hope?”
  4. Seek help. Trauma can take a long time to recover from, so Chan says that working with a therapist can be an important proactive mental health tool. “If you feel safe and comfortable to do therapy, I think there are so many wonderful mental health professionals who are able to hold space for processing racial trauma. A lot of us don’t need a solution. We don’t need to be told to do this, do that, take action all the time. Sometimes it feels really good just to be validated and heard.” If you’re new to therapy, seeking a counsellor on the Inkblot platform who shares your lived cultural and racial experience could be a great place to start.
  5. Take action. If you have the time, resources and energy, Chan says that taking action can be a wonderful way to find a sense of hope and control in a time when you might be feeling helpless.“For me personally, my colleague and I started offering support groups for individuals who have been affected by the events in Atlanta and by racial trauma in the Asian community. I’m looking forward to that because it allows me to heal and for community members to sit with our feelings.” Other ways to take action could be supporting Asian-owned businesses, getting involved with local activist group or donating to charities that support your community. Confronting your own biases and prejudicial attitudes within your own community can be another way to work towards change. “There’s a lot of classism and stereotyping within the Asian community,” says Chan. “Think about how you have played a role in normalizing the kind of behaviour that privileges one type of Asian person over another. And when someone says something offensive, speak up.”

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How Allies Can Support the Asian Community Right Now

  1. Check in with your peers. Not sure how to support your friends, coworkers and family right now? A simple text or call could mean more than you think.  “When I was reflecting on what allies could do to help this was something that for me personally stuck out,’ says Chan.”I didn’t receive a lot of texts asking about the impact of the events in Atlanta on me. So whether you are part of the Asian community or not, remember that taking the time to check in on peers can have a huge impact. It doesn’t have to be a full-on conversation. Just letting your Asian friends know that you’re thinking of them goes a long way."
  2. Educate yourself. Do your own homework about Asian cultures before asking your Asian friends to do it for you.  “I think a lot of the time people turn to the Asian community and say ‘Hey teach me about your culture.’ That’s a lot for us. We’re processing a lot right now. When we have the mental capacity, sure I’d love to tell you about my family and how they immigrated here. But I may not have the time to do that. Now is a great opportunity for allies to learn more on their own.”
  3. Have conversations with friends and family about anti-Asian racism. The BLM movement sparked conversations about anti-black racism across the Internet, friend groups and workplaces. In order to make sure conversations about anti-Asian racism go beyond a single social media post – and the work of dismantling anti-Asian racism is shared, Chan encourages allies to take action by working to have meaningful conversations about racism with those they love. “If you’re sharing things on Instagram, sure that’s wonderful – but ask yourself, what personal conversations could you be having with your friends and family about this? How are you taking the time to challenge racism against the Asian community?” As one example, Chan suggests challenging peers who make racist stereotypes as they come up. “Tell your friend why what they said is inappropriate and why they can’t say it.” Being outside of the Asian community can afford one the privilege to speak out against damaging stereotypes, hate or anti-Asian violence without fear of facing the same level of confrontation, Chan adds.
  4. Support Asian businesses within your community and consume consciously. Buying from Asian-owned businesses and supporting Asian-led initiatives in your community is a great way to show solidarity right now. But Chan suggests being cautious about how you consume . “When you’re participating in yoga or ordering Asian food, pay attention to why. Am I here because I want to support this business and show my support or am I blindly participating in this culture because it’s cool? What more can I learn about it? This is a beautiful opportunity to honour, support and learn more about the wonderful and diverse cultures within the Asian community. I’m so proud to be Asian and I think that’s something a lot of us need to embrace more.” 

If you’re experiencing racial trauma or distress related to anti-Asian hate and would like to speak with a professional counsellor, Inkblot therapists are here to support you. Reach out to our  qualified therapists for an appointment today.


Alia Chan

Alia Chan is a registered clinical counsellor in the Vancouver area. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology as well as a Masters of Counselling Psychology. With years of experience serving the Vancouver community, Alia works closely with individuals to manage mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and substance misuse, and who are looking for a new way to take hold of their lives. Alia works from a person-centred, trauma informed lens to create safety and trust at all times in the therapy room. She also hosts the podcast “Human First” where she interviews people about their mental health journeys. You can connect Alia on Inkblot’s platform with the referral code