LOS ANGELES – When Linda Yoon, a Korean American psychotherapist, heard about the Atlanta-area spa shootings two weeks ago, she braced for what would likely come next.
After the killing of eight people, including six Asian women, she and the other therapists in her Los Angeles-area practice were virtually flooded with calls and emails from would-be clients. Ninety percent of them were Asian people mentioning the shooting or racial trauma.
The calls came not just from L.A. or across California, but also from Alabama, Kansas and even Georgia, with desperate requests for an Asian therapist who could help them cope.
Since she started the Yellow Chair Collective with a partner in 2019, the out-of-state inquiries were not new for Yoon. But due to overwhelming demand and licensing restrictions that limit practitioners' ability to treat people in other states, Yoon and her fellow therapists felt a sense of helplessness, realizing they could not serve everyone.
"We've been getting a lot more inquiries than we could accommodate," Yoon said. "We've been getting a lot of inquiries out of state where they don't have a lot of Asian providers and that's been hard ... we had to turn some Asian clients away."
The Atlanta-area shootings amplified the longtime mental health crisis in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities after a year of anti-Asian violence and grief over COVID-19 deaths.
Experts and advocates say these events also helped expose other shortcomings in the healthcare system particular to Asian Americans, including a lack of Asian mental health providers, ongoing language barriers and ignorance of Asian culture, histories and the decades of violence they've faced in America.
During the pandemic, Asian communities are also dealing with displacement from loss of income or the need to move, being without usual support systems because of social distancing and fear of violence inspired by bigoted rhetoric that Asian people are responsible for the coronavirus.
"It's just making a lot of mental health challenges worse," said Mandy Diec, California policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. "It's really nothing new, but it's something reinforcing a lot of the trauma and it's unfortunate that the biggest problem is that we live in a healthcare system that doesn't account for the needs of our community."
Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, unresolved trauma and cultural stigma about mental illness are longtime concerns in Asian communities.