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Providing Help For All Communities, No Matter How Small

By MaJosé Carrasco, Director of the Multicultural Action Center

I will never forget the day back in college when I found out that one of my best friends had tried to commit suicide. I can remember the shock and fear I felt. Most of all, I can remember feeling confused not only due to my lack of knowledge about mental illness, but also because of the lack of support and information. Like me, my friend was an international student. She had come to the United States from Japan and had anticipated a lot of new experiences in the U.S., but she had not expected to deal with severe depression without family support and information that took her culture into account. Many Asian Americans today face similar challenges when living with a mental illness.

The month of May is Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) Heritage Month, which offers an opportunity for NAMI to honor this vibrant community and explore mental health issues that affect a sizable percentage of individuals. According to the 2010 Census, AAPIs are the fastest growing racial group in the country. Chinese Americans are the largest Asian group, followed by Filipinos, Asian Indians, Vietnamese and Koreans. While AAPIs tend to be healthier than whites and other racial and ethnic groups, they have similar rates of mental illness. Unfortunately, this community also faces disparities in mental health care and many barriers when seeking mental health services, including higher levels of stigma, lack of access to care and language access issues.

Recognizing the rapid growth of this community and the barriers to mental health care it faces, last February NAMI released the findings of a listening session with leaders from the AAPI community. The report highlighted the lack of research and knowledge on AAPI mental health, particularly of sub-populations, and the existence of disparities in mental health care. The report also underscored how cultural beliefs and values play an important role in how AAPIs experience and handle mental illness.

Based on recommendations provided by listening session participants, NAMI identified specific follow up steps to help improve AAPI mental health. The subsequent step was to create an AAPI Networking Group, which meets via conference calls to offer input and guidance to NAMI’s Multicultural Action Center and opportunities for leadership development and networking to group members.

During their first conference call, members identified the development of culturally specific materials and resources as a priority given the lack of AAPI specific information for individuals with mental illness and family members. Based on this guidance, NAMI is working on developing a series of fact sheets on AAPI mental health. This series will be available in the summer of 2011 in English, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.

If you would like to join the AAPI Networking Group please email us at Membership is open to any individual interested in AAPI mental health issues. To access the AAPI Listening Session Report visit the Multicultural Action Center.

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