Mental Health America works nationally and locally to raise awareness about mental health and ensures that those at-risk for mental illnesses and related disorders receive proper, timely and effective treatment. MHA incorporates culturally competent strategies to ensure that it is effectively addressing the treatment and psychosocial needs of consumers and families with diverse values, beliefs, sexual orientations, and backgrounds that vary by race, ethnicity and/or language.
I walked into my first group therapy session when I was in my early twenties. Not only was I the only Filipina-American in the room, I was the only person of color. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this made me a bit more guarded than usual. I agonized over having to explain my upbringing, so I rarely participated. No one in the room could relate to my experience as a daughter of immigrants. My peers in group would question my experience and try to give me advice—and while it was well-intentioned, I didn’t find their advice as helpful as if it were coming from someone in my community.
But I knew I couldn’t reach out. There’s an underlying fear among the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community that getting mental health treatment means you’re “crazy.” If you admit you need help for your mental health, parents and other family members might experience fear and shame. They may assume that your condition is a result of their poor parenting or a hereditary flaw, and that you’re broken because of them. Seeking help from those outside the immediate family also conflicts with the Asian- and Pacific Islander-specific cultural value of interdependence. After all, why would you pay to tell a stranger your problems when you should be relying on the strength of your community?
And after my disappointing experience in that group, I didn’t want to go to therapy anymore either. Part of me wondered if therapy was only meant for white people. And this belief stopped me from getting the help I needed for many years. Many AAPIs try to justify why we shouldn’t ask for help by doing exactly what I did—by believing and repeating things that just aren’t true. To show the community that mental health is important, though, we need to shatter these incorrect beliefs
According to SAMHSA, AAPIs are less likely to reach out for help than other races and ethnic groups. This may be due to faith and religious beliefs, cultural values and language barriers, to name a few. Additionally, AAPIs are mistakenly thought to experience economic stability. This stereotype, known as the “model minority” myth, incorrectly assumes that all AAPIs are wealthy and highly educated. This, compounded with the family and/or cultural expectation to be a highly skilled professional, like a doctor, lawyer or engineer, can be overwhelming. It may lead you to feel you need to succeed, regardless of the toll it may take on you.
This month, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will recognize May 10 as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Mental Health Awareness Day. May is both Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Mental Health Awareness Month. These communities have traditionally faced heightened stigma around mental health and substance use issues. Lack of awareness of available resources and the stigma surrounding mental health issues are the biggest deterrents in seeking professional help. Issues of immigration, housing, discrimination and access to care create additional barriers to wellness.
The Asian Pacific Islander (API) UsCC subcommittee was established under the Mental Health Services Act for the purpose of increasing mental health access and to produce stakeholder priorities which will advise DMH’s action planning toward development and improvement of its services and partnerships to better engage underserved and marginalized cultural and ethnic communities in Los Angeles County.
The API UsCC subcommittee provides DMH with community-driven and culturally specific capacity building project recommendations and/or project concepts for implementation to increase mental health access, awareness, promotion, and decrease stigma with the ultimate goal to reduce cultural and ethnic disparities in access to care and service delivery.
Vallampati said that growing up, she never considered her mental health issues as actual issues but knew that they did affect her in her daily life and were taking a mental toll on her.
“If I brought it up to like my mom or my dad, or close family friends, a lot of them, even the medical professionals, would say, ‘This is a part of growing up, you are under so much pressure at school and extracurriculars, and stuff like that, I really do think this is going blow over,’” she said. “That was kind of related to a lot of the anxiety I experienced as a kid.”
As she grew older, Vallampati said she had to find her own ways to deal with anxiety. Although her family had the financial access to medical services, she was still a minor, so she felt like her parents would find out if she ever talked to a doctor about her problems.
She said talking to her friends and mentors from back home in Cleveland was her way of coping, but it ended up only being a temporary fix, especially when she came to Ohio State.
“I had some friends here but my family was hours away, and I kind of immediately fell into this depressive spiral,” Vallampati said.
While she doesn’t want to make generalizations for the whole APIDA community, Madani said from her own perspective, the stigma surrounding mental health in the community has been a common theme — regardless of ethnicity — because of how the community views itself as a whole.
“From my personal experience, the APIDA community holds themselves to a very high standard and aims for perfection,” Madani said. “So there’s not a lot of room for error and that cannot be healthy sometimes because then it doesn’t create space to process emotions, whether they’re good or bad.”
For Dang, it also has to do with how she feels like many of the people in the community were taught growing up on how to deal with mental health problems.