Reckoning With America's Alarming Rise in Anti-Asian Hate

Lorenzo Norris, MD


August 02, 2021

Hate's Toll on Mental Health

As a psychiatrist, I've spent my entire career working with dedicated teams to treat patients with mental health disorders. Currently, hate is not classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a mental illness. However, I can't think of another emotion that is a better candidate for further research and scientific instigation, if for no other reason than to better understand when prejudice and bias transform into hatred and crime.

Surprisingly, there has been relatively little research on the topic of hate in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. I'd be willing to wager that if you asked a typical graduating class of medical students to give you an actual working definition of the emotion of hate, most would be at a loss for words.

Fischer and Halperin published a helpful article that gives a functional perspective on hate. The authors cover a great deal of research on hate and offer the following four starting points valuable in considering it:

  • "Hate is different from anger because an anger target is appraised as someone whose behavior can be influenced and changed."

  • "A hate target, on the contrary, implies appraisals of the other's malevolent nature and malicious intent."

  • "Hate is characterized by appraisals that imply a stable perception of a person or group and thus the incapability to change the extremely negative characteristics attributed to the target of hate."

  • "Everyday observations also suggest that hate is so powerful that it does, not just temporarily but permanently, destroy relations between individuals or groups."

When I view hate with these insights in mind, it completely changes how I choose to utilize the word or concept. Hate is an emotion whose goal/action tendency is to eliminate groups (not just people or obstacles) and destroy any current or future relationships. We can take this a step further in noting that hate spreads, not only to the intended targets but potentially my "own" group. Similar to secondhand smoke, there is no risk-free exposure to hate or racism.

In the past decade, a robust body of evidence has emerged that clearly illustrates the negative health impacts of racism. Paradies and colleagues performed a systematic meta-analysis explicitly focused on racism as a determinant of health, finding that it was associated with poorer mental health, including depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. Over the past two decades, researchers have increasingly looked at the effects of racial discrimination on the AAIP community. In their 2009 review article, Gee and colleagues identified 62 empirical articles assessing the relation between discrimination and health among Asian Americans. Most of the studies found that discrimination was associated with poorer health. Of the 40 studies focused on mental health, 37 reported that discrimination was associated with poorer outcomes.

SAH recently released its very illuminating Mental Health Report. Among several key findings, two in particular caught my attention. First, Asian Americans who have experienced racism are more stressed by anti-Asian hate than the pandemic itself. Second, 1 in 5 Asian Americans who have experienced racism display racial trauma, the psychological and emotional harm caused by racism. Given the rise in hate crimes, there must be concern regarding the level of trauma being inflicted upon the Asian American community.

A complete review of the health effect of racism is beyond this article's scope. Still, the previously mentioned studies further support the need to treat racism in general, and specifically ant-Asian hate, as the urgent public health concern that it truly is. The US government recently outlined an action plan to respond to anti-Asian violence, xenophobia, and bias. These are helpful first steps, but much more is required on a societal and individual level, given the mental health disparities faced by the AAPI community.

Determining the best ways to address this urgent public health concern can be overwhelming, exhausting, and outright demoralizing. The bottom line is that if we do nothing, communities and groups will continue to suffer the effects of racial hatred. These consequences are severe and transgenerational.

But we must start somewhere. For me, that begins by gaining a better understanding of the emotion of hate and my role in either facilitating or stopping it, and by listening, listening, and then listening some more to AAPI colleagues, friends, and family about their lived experience with anti-Asian hate.

Dr Norris is a psychiatrist and associate dean of student affairs and administration at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.

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