March 18, 2021 


Our nation was devastated by the March 16th shootings in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead. While we are still learning the details, we know that most of the victims were women of Asian descent. These horrific attacks are the latest examples of the rise in incidents of hateful rhetoric and violent crimes perpetrated against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, the AAPI community, which has already reported high rates of depression and anxiety during the pandemic, is now facing new racial trauma—and a mental health crisis.

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) unequivocally denounces the dangerous increases in anti-Asian racist, xenophobic, and violent incidents that have occurred throughout the pandemic and rejects hateful rhetoric and acts in all their forms. From the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment camps of World War II to Vincent Chin’s murder and the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting, racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has long been a part of our country’s history. AAPI women in particular have not only experienced racism, but also sexist stereotypes, which have often led to violence, including the attacks in Georgia on March 16th.

“To our AAPI colleagues, art therapy students, and members of the AATA community, we stand in solidarity with you during this frightening and challenging time,” said AATA President Dr. Margaret Carlock-Russo. “It is imperative that we listen to and support our AAPI clients, colleagues, and community members as they navigate racial trauma and the stress and fear that come with being targets at work, on the street, and throughout their daily lives.”

Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150% in 2020, according to analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, this month which examined hate crimes in 16 of America’s largest cities. Particularly troubling are the high incidents of violence against the elderly. On January 28 in San Francisco, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was knocked to the ground and killed while walking in his neighborhood. On February 3 in New York City, Noel Quintana, 61, was slashed across the face. In addition, one in four young people said they experienced anti-Asian hate amid COVID-19.

While the majority of incidents of discrimination go unreported, the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate received 3,795 reported anti-Asian incidents between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. These incidents came in a variety of forms, including verbal harassment (68.1%), shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans), physical assault (11.1%), civil rights violations (8.5%) (e.g., workplace discrimination, refusal of service), and online harassment (6.8%). Further, women reported hate incidents 2.3 times more than men, and transgender and non-binary individuals accounted for two percent of incidents reported.

According to Mental Health America, AAPI adults are least likely to seek mental health services among racial groups and are three times less likely to seek mental health support than their white counterparts. As mental health professionals, it is critical that we close this access gap. Art therapy offers a unique approach to therapy for communities less likely to seek mental health support. Additionally, we must support alternative crisis intervention resources, community-based responses, and in-language and culturally informed care for mental health.

Last month, dozens of AAPI organizations from the Bay Area issued a joint statement calling for a non-police response, like patrols by volunteers, tailored support for victims and mental health resources. We ask our members and chapters to join us in supporting the AAPI community, challenging our implicit biases about the AAPI community—and initiating constructive conversations to help address the mental health crisis.

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