April 24, 2024

Championing Youth Well-Being: How to Support AANHPI Youth and Their Peers

Youth advocates share their recommendations for how to build bridges between caring adults and young leaders.

For more than a decade, mental health practitioners have been treating and studying what many have described as a mental health crisis among kids and teens. As we observe and celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, we are focused on building bridges among caring adults, kids, and teens to support youth well-being.

AANHPI youth have among the highest unmet mental health needs in the U.S., though they experience similar mental health concerns as their peers. Studies show that their families navigate limited access to services and resources in appropriate languages and varying levels of cultural competency from providers. They also experience stigma about mental health and stereotypes – particularly pressures of the “model minority” myth. Evidence shows that strong family support systems lead to positive mental health outcomes and opportunities for youth to take on supportive roles in their families.

We caught up with student activists and youth advocates to learn how people of all ages can show up and build the bridges to youth well-being. Learn about the work they’re doing and what they recommend!

About our contributors

Cassandra Arechiga (she, they) serves as the Organizational Culture & Wellness Manager at Woodcraft Rangers and has been selected a 2024 Next Generation of Afterschool Leader by the National Afterschool Association

Mina Fedor (she/her) is a high school student recognized by President Biden as a "Uniter" as the founder and executive director of AAPI Youth Rising (AYR), a national student organization. AYR is a grant-funded partner of the California Civil Rights Department for the launch of California's first nonemergency hate reporting hotline

Emily Peng (she/her) is a high school student and the founder and executive director of DyeversityInUs. DyeversityInUs recently received recognition by the Mayor of Daly City.

Nimran Singh (she/her) is a high school student and leads a campaign with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as one of the Student Visionaries of the Year. 

Q: How did you get started in youth advocacy, and what kind of work do you do in that space?

Cassandra Arechiga: Growing up surrounded by educators who encouraged and empowered me to use my voice set the tone for me as an adult to value and advocate for quality education/enrichment and the amplification of youth perspectives and voices.

Mina Fedor: After speaking out at my middle school assembly in 2020 about the rise in xenophobia targeting the AAPI community, I founded AAPI Youth Rising (AYR) and organized a rally in Berkeley, Calif. that drew more than 1,200 attendees. Realizing that small actions make a difference, and that education is the key to dismantling racism, AYR developed a lesson about the untold histories of Asians in America. We may not always say it in the moment, but we’re constantly searching for faces that look like ours and stories that echo ours to make us feel like we’re a greater part of the American story. This is why the “One Day of AAPI History Lesson” is so important. We all need to hear our histories told in our classrooms.

Emily Peng: I got involved in youth advocacy when I was fourteen years old. It was the summer before sophomore year, and I was interning at a social justice summer internship. We learned about AAPI stereotypes, intersectionality, and AAPI history. I learned about the importance of breaking through stereotypes and working together with other minority groups towards advocacy... After experiencing stereotypes and seeing that there needed to be change in my community, I decided to start a youth-led nonprofit, DyeversityInUs, that strives to provide insight to communities on underrepresented career paths and the harms of stereotypes for a more diverse future. 

Nimran Singh

 Nimran Singh: I think my journey mainly started through the Student Visionaries of the Year program I am doing as part of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This is a 7-week leadership program for high school students. I am passionate about fighting for equal access to lifesaving treatments and care for all patients! I have learned how to communicate with adults, contact companies for sponsorships, and truly make a change in the world. My uncle passed away from cancer before I was born, and even though I didn’t know him directly, I know the effects cancer can have on one’s family. This is why I wanted to partake in this program, to honor my uncle and make a difference.

Q: How can parents, caregivers, and other caring adults support youth mental health in communities where they experience stigma?

Cassandra Arechiga

Cassandra: It all begins with listening and building meaningful relationships with our youth, investing in understanding their interests, hobbies, and dreams. Breaking stigmas means breaking the silence, once trust is established, initiating open conversations about mental health, and providing a safe space for youth to express themselves. This can be lifesaving. Remember, as a caring adult, you are not alone! We encourage you to tap into school, healthcare, and community resources to holistically support a young person's mental health and wellness.

Mina: Kids are never too young to learn about myths surrounding the AANHPI community and how they impact our mental health, like the "model minority" and "perpetual foreigner" myths. To dismantle a myth, you have to first be able to name it. The expectations of living up to a false “model minority” standard impacts youth mental health. It’s OK to seek help when we need it. It’s fine not to live up to expectations that others around us may put on us. Speaking openly about mental health in our families and communities is the first step to getting the care that we all need. 

“It’s OK to seek help when we need it. It’s fine not to live up to expectations that others around us may put on us.” – Mina Fedor

Emily: It's definitely difficult for youth to process their emotions, as many youths struggle to express their feelings at this age. Parents, caregivers, and other caring adults can find a time to sit down with their child to promote meaningful discussions. Youth often ball up an immense amount of frustration, so it's important to give them some time to talk about their feelings. Mental health resources and wellness sessions are often provided at schools as well. Additionally, encouraging young people to take part in youth-led organizations that empower youth can also help them process their emotions. It's crucial for youth who are struggling with mental health issues to understand that they are not alone.

"It's crucial for youth who are struggling with mental health issues to understand that they are not alone."  - Emily Peng

Nimran: Adults play a key role in aiding youth advocacy. My team manager, Jenn Lacy, has been an extremely important asset to my campaign, along with the campaign of all the other candidates. From our weekly check-ins to her words of encouragement, Jenn has pushed me to step out of my comfort zone so much more! Another key adult during my campaign has been my mom. She works with me day and night reaching out to connections and helping me brainstorm with ideas. If I think one ask might be too farfetched, she reminds me that if I don’t at least try, I am already setting myself up for a “no.” I wouldn’t have been able to achieve these accomplishments if it weren’t for the help of so many amazing adults!

Q: If you could give a message of encouragement or advice to other youth, what would you say?

Cassandra: I heard this great quote the other day that would have helped my younger, anxiety-stricken self and brings me peace today: “Thinking doesn’t overcome fear, action does.” Fear and anxiety often reside in our heads, but taking action, such as breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable parts or going for a walk to clear your head, can alleviate those feelings.

Emily: I would say that while life may seem unpredictable at some times, adversities are a part of life, and we should embrace that to create change. Oftentimes, we may feel trapped between pressures of college applications and fulfilling expectations, and it's important to acknowledge the fact that in each of us, is a ball of hope. You determine your destiny and how you react to tough situations. I recommend that youth work together to discuss difficult topics and address them.

Mina Fedor

Mina: Because AAPI histories are rarely told in our classrooms, we don’t learn the histories of those who have contributed to this country. Find your hero! My personal hero is U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI). As the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, she has been a vocal supporter of affordable healthcare, equal rights, immigration reform, and addressing climate change. I had the honor of finally meeting Senator Hirono in person when I was honored as a “Uniter” at the “United We Stand Summit” held at the White House. Her tireless determination to make positive change, and down-to-earth personality and warmth make everyone feel heard and seen. It’s good to have someone you can look up to!

Nimran: Don’t give up. It’s going to be hard, standing up for people and voicing your opinion just as a teenager, but that doesn’t make you any less qualified than an adult. You bring a new viewpoint to society and your opinions are just as important. Don’t stop when things become too stressful or nerve wracking because trust me, the result is worth every second! 

“You bring a completely new viewpoint to society and your opinions are just as important.” - Nimran Singh

Q: As a bonus question, what’s something that brings you joy or helps you care for your social and emotional well-being as you work to create change?

Cassandra: Since I was young, writing and making music have brought me immense joy. Addressing my big and often challenging emotions through poetry or songwriting is incredibly healing. What I love about writing is its accessibility—all you need is paper and pencil—and poetry in particular speaks to me because there are no rules and therefore no wrong way to go about it!

“What I love about writing is its accessibility—all you need is paper and pencil…” – Cassandra Arechiga

Emily Peng

Emily: Something that helps me care for my social and emotional well-being as I work to create change is playing the cello. When I play my cello, it makes me feel like I'm transcending into another world. It shifts my focus away from the world and allows me to process my emotions. I am grateful to be able to have a way to bring peace to my mind.

Mina: I love to draw and create things – from origami, to self-portraiture, to jewelry for my friends, I usually always have a project going. Another way I like to recharge is by spending time with friends and family (which includes two cats and a dog) and listening to music. 

Nimran: One thing I really enjoy to get my mind away from stress and other worries would definitely be music. It brings me so much joy, no matter the genre I’m listening to! I love to turn my headphones on and sing around my room whenever I need a little break! 

Thank you to Cassandra, Emily, Mina, Nimran, and readers for joining us in promoting youth well-being in communities across the country!

Learn more about our AANHPI Heritage Month celebration and activities your family can use at home by visiting KohlsHealthyAtHome.org.

Activities in English, Spanish, Mandarin (Simplified Chinese), and Nepali:

Further your learning: 

Kohleun Adamson

Manager, Culturally Responsive Communications | Alliance for a Healthier Generation