Inclusion Is Key to Mental Health

May 12, 2023

About 20 diverse colleagues pose together for a photograph; some are kneeling and some have their arms around others’ shoulders.
News Type:  Director's Corner, Weekly Spark
Author:  Susie 수지 Reece, Korean American, SPRC Director of Lived Experience Initiatives

Over the years, I’ve come to see the rich diversity of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community, which was often unreflected in the world around me growing up. After I lost my father to suicide, I was raised by my Caucasian grandparents in a rural southern state, which greatly influenced my sense of identity and how I viewed myself within the AANHPI community. As a young person, lack of media representations of Asian Americans often led me to believe that my experience and upbringing did not fit in the AANHPI narrative.

This lack of representation and inclusion not only limits awareness of the spectrum of experiences that exist in the AANHPI community but also limits our ability to express, or even identify, our own needs. AANHPI people have unique histories and experiences that cross multiple, overlapping cultural influences. These experiences present specific needs and challenges related to mental health and suicide.

According to national data, mental health issues are on the rise among AANHPI young adults. Acts of hate and violence against AANHPI community members, recently exacerbated by COVID, are but one factor likely contributing to this increase. Other factors that impact AANHPI mental health include generational trauma, cultural stigma, language barriers, immigration status, and historical and systemic inequities. These issues, coupled with a lack of inclusion, foster stereotypes, microaggressions, discrimination, and racism, all of which affect our well-being, mental health, and sense of belonging.

In my role as director of SPRC’s Lived Experience Initiatives, I have grown increasingly aware of the diversity of lived experiences, not only those related to suicide but also to the intersectional identities that intertwine with suicide and mental health. This role has shown me the importance of fostering belonging, equity, and cultural humility to ensure all perspectives are included in our work.

Promoting inclusion means looking around the table and not simply asking who is missing but actively involving and empowering individuals from all communities to share their insights. Integrating diverse perspectives is the most powerful way to grow and evolve our suicide prevention efforts—and each other. As a person from a historically underrepresented community that is often invisible when needs and solutions are discussed, I know the value of this work. I also understand that by including the full spectrum of experiences, we create a beautiful patchwork of people coming together for a common purpose with the chance to make positive change a reality.

When I was younger, I longed to see someone who looked like me leading opportunities and paving paths that I could follow. Today, I recognize that with each step I take, I am in a position to forge trails that break down barriers, not only for members of my AANHPI community, but for us all.

May is a celebration of mental health awareness and AANHPI communities. We can all celebrate both by weaving inclusivity into everything we do.

Susie 수지 Reece

Korean American

SPRC Director of Lived Experience Initiatives 

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center