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Stigma, Mental Health and the Asian Pacific Islander Community

A stigma toward mental illness in the Asian Pacific Islander community in California and other states keeps many individuals from seeking needed treatment, KPCC's "KPCC News" reports. California Healthline's website posted a discussion of the KPCC findings online here.

Asian Americans use mental health services about half as much as the general population, according to a report by the California Asian Pacific Islander Joint Legislative Caucus.

Meanwhile, a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that Asian American women in certain age groups have the highest number of suicide mortality rates of any ethnicity.

Context is vitally important in understanding this complext issue. Michi Fu, director of prevention projects at Pacific Clinics throughout California, asserts that people in the Asian community "are willing to die" rather than seek care for mental illnesses because "There's a reflection, supposedly, on the entire family name."

Cultural considerations include using appropriate language to frame the issue. Young Ahn — mental health services coordinator for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, is quoted in the article as saying that is is vital to use other methods when helping Asian individuals in need of mental health care. "Don't even mention mental illness. They're not going to come," Ahn said. She has had more success when introducing the concept as stress management.

In addition to the stigma, Rocco Cheng — project leader for the California Reducing Disparities Project's Asian Pacific Islander division — said individuals in the Asian community face several other challenges to obtaining mental health care services, including:

  • Language disparity
  • Access to transportation
  • Unfamiliarity with Western mental health services

He said that providers should focus on making mental health information available in languages that minority groups will understand (Kim, "KPCC News," KPCC, 10/16).

The article on California Healthline's website can be accessed here.

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