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Study reveals COVID-19 racism plunged mental health in Chinese American families

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) identified unique spikes in deteriorating mental health among Chinese-American parents and their children due to the onslaught of racism that stemmed from COVID-19. 

A team of six researchers released their findings in a study they touted as “the first to report on multiple dimensions of perceived racial discrimination.” This is because limited data exist on how Asian American families in particular coped with poor mental health as a result of the pandemic.

Xenophobic dialogue peppered public rhetoric ever since the pandemic originated in China. President Donald Trump dubbed the Coronavirus as “kung flu,” among other labels. It exacerbated the frequency of hate incidents toward Asian Americans. The racist naming of COVID-19 as the “China virus” provided an insight into the United States’ long history of prejudice towards Asian Americans. The subsequent rise in hate crimes against the community painted a bleak picture. Since its inception in March, Stop AAPI Hate received over 2,500 reports of anti-Asian attacks across the country.

Now, AAP’s study displayed a grave finding: almost 19% to 24% of children faced “a slightly elevated to a substantial risk of clinically significant mental health problems”. In comparison, the US norm for 15 to 17-year-olds and 11 to 14-year-olds are 10.9% and 14.3%, respectively.  

“Perceptions of Chinese-Americans as ‘perpetual foreigners’, threatening the physical and cultural health of a white, Anglo-dominant US society” fueled the need for AAP’s study, the researchers said. 

The rise of Sinophobia

The lack of a single screening tool to measure dips in mental health due to Sinophobia compelled researchers to make use of numerous ones. Curiously, the rate of perceived Sinophobia was measured using the Perceived Islamophobia Scale. The decision to do so points to the larger picture of minority treatment in the United States. The earliest major instance of racial aggression in the 21st-century was towards Muslims and members of the Middle Eastern and South Asian communities during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Racism as a result of the global pandemic quickly embodied the bottling of old wine in a new bottle as Sinophobia plunged to the same level of infamy as Islamophobia.

AAP’s discoveries are consistent with the experiences of young Asian Americans across the globe. Students like Lily Tang and her classmate from the University of Massachusetts were on the receiving end of racist jokes during their study abroad. Three Asian American highschoolers even interviewed 1,000 of their peers to figure out that one in four of them went through racist bullying due to the disease.

Media exacerbation

Over half the candidates believed the media incited xenophobia towards China, its people, and culture. 

In fact, the term “China virus” exploded into public consciousness once high-ranking officials called COVID-19 as such. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., tweeted about it as the “Wuhan virus.” Apart from President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the phrase “China virus” in an interview with “Fox and Friends,” reported NBC News.

A seemingly endless cycle

AAP’s research contained a searing revelation. Only children experienced psychological upsets when they witnessed others in their ethnic group being victimized. They were also more prone to acting out when they witnessed Sinophobia, which operates as collective racism. According to the study, it revealed “their greater vulnerability to vicarious racial discrimination likely due to their developing social-cognitive and identity processes.”

The study showed that winnowing mental health in children automatically gave way to poor psychological health in parents too. The cycle is vicious because when parents experienced hate in-person or directly online, their children developed anxiety symptoms and internalized problems. “Finally, parental perceptions of media Sinophobia were positively associated with youth-reported internalizing and externalizing problems,” the study stated.

The researchers concluded with two calls to action. They wanted other experts to use more screening tools to identify more children with mental health concerns. Plus, medical evidence proved that racism is devastating for children. So, AAP appealed to pediatricians to provide “culturally sensitive care…with attention to the unique challenges of Asian American families.” The study encouraged other groups to conduct their own research that focused on other ethnicities under the wide Asian American umbrella.

Bulbul Rajagopal
Bulbul Rajagopalhttps://bulbulrajagopal.contently.com/
Bulbul Rajagopal is a data and investigative reporter with a special interest in minority issues, soccer, and politics. Her extensive coverage in India and Los Angeles rewarded her with an affinity for crime reporting. During her downtime, Bulbul enjoys exploring her passion for food and its cultural impact amongst other things.
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