May Reading: 5 Books on AAPI Mental Health

May 30, 2023

Livia Caligor (she/her) is an art and culture writer with bylines in Architectural Digest, Teen Vogue, Hyperallergic, and Wonderland. Her content focuses on the intersection between art, design, and social issues, as she seeks to uplift minority demographics and make the arts a more equitable space through her writing. Livia is passionate about deconstructing social stigmas around mental health and making resources more accessible to youth without the means; she has spoken about the topic on CBS, NY1, and MTV. In her free time, she works on her photography, which has been exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and published on Livia holds degrees in Fashion Management and English from Cornell University and lives in her hometown of NYC. 

Check out Livia’s art and writing at; Follow her Instagram @livia.caligor and her photography page @puddlesbylivia.

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For AAPI month and Mental Health Awareness month, I wanted to focus my reading on books that expand the dialogue around mental health in the AAPI community. Mental health is a highly stigmatized conversation in Asian American families – particularly first-generation households – stemming from cultural precedence, the model minority myth, and a wide cultural disparity in psychological frameworks around the conversation. Studies show that less than 25% of the AAPI population seeks mental healthcare, which is less than half the amount of other demographics, despite its disproportionate ubiquity in the AAPI community: it is the first leading cause of death amongst AAPI youth today.

This past month, I read five incredible books that explore mental illness couched in an Asian American context. As the AAPI community experiences a nationwide racial reckoning regarding their identity and the space they occupy in American society, these five books add nuance, perspective, and depth to the conversation.

1. Permission to Come Home by Dr. Jenny T. Wang invites its readers on an empowering journey toward reclaiming their mental health. A Taiwanese-American psychologist who founded the popular IG account @asiansformentalhealth, Dr. Wang fuses her personal narrative with her research as a clinician and doctor. She invites her readers to question the social constructs built around them, learn to say no, draw boundaries, and take up space. A powerful celebration of the Asian American diaspora and analysis of the mental health epidemic in the community, Dr. Wang offers its readers permission to return closer to their home.

2. The Collective Schizophrenias is an intimate collection of essays that offers a nuanced narrative about a widely misunderstood and highly stigmatized condition. Seeking to dispel misconceptions of schizophrenia, the essays provide an authentic reflection on the deeply harrowing experience of fighting for one’s life with such an impactful illness. As Wang wrote for an essay in Catapult in 2016, “to be alive and sick is a far more complex endeavor than we like to admit.”

3. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a letter to the author’s mother, who cannot read English. The lyrical prose unearths the impact of mental illness and discrimination as a queer Vietnamese American and offers a brutally vulnerable exploration of race, class, masculinity, sexuality, and trauma.


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4. What My Bones Know by Stephanie Foo offers an intimate look at the complex PTSD and chronic illnesses behind her seemingly-perfect life as a highly-successful, award-winning radio producer with a loving boyfriend. It explores the impact of physical and verbal abuse, the lifelong manifestations of PTSD, and the challenges of reclaiming agency as an Asian American woman in the face of trauma and neglect.


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5. Making a Scene by the critically-acclaimed actor Constance Wu is a witty, brave, and vulnerable autobiography that narrates her path to success – as well as the racial and sexual discrimination she experienced along the way. It explores Wu’s challenges to maintain her sense of self as she made it in Hollywood and the industry’s impact on her mental health.

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