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UCLA looks to boost use of mental health services by AAPIs

A new report published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research recommends that outreach by mental health services to Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Asian American adults should be culturally specific.

According to CHPR, 24% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific islander adults and 16% of Asian American adults in California said they need mental health support. Among those who sought out care, a large percentage said they had difficulties accessing services and struggled with both insurance and the high costs.

 However, AAPIs frequently face discrimination and many are battling past traumas. More than a year after the shooting incident on Lunar New Year at a dance hall in California, survivors and community leaders told CNN that they are struggling to overcome the trauma.

“The stigma includes some of the things that are true for everyone but are probably even more so for Asians,” Dr. Rona Hu, medical director of Stanford Hospital’s acute psychiatric inpatient unit, told CNN. “There’s often a sense that when people have a mental condition, that it’s their fault or the family members’ fault – that they’re doing this on purpose or they’re weak … or that the family did something wrong to deserve this.”

The research by CHPR uses a community-based research method that combines survey data with historical community experiences. Those experiences include the colonization of Hawaii, Pasifika nations, and the Philippines; the resettlement of Southeast Asians and racist policies such as the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Additionally, the report takes on a granular approach that differentiates the mental health experiences of eight subgroups within the AAPI population.

“Historically, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Asian people have been viewed as a monolithic group, which mistakenly led others to generalizing their experiences,” said Ninez Ponce, director at the CHPR and an author of the report. “By disaggregating the data for the different groups, we’re learning important information that could help lawmakers craft policy that does a better job reaching the people who need it.”

The perception of a monolithic AAPI group directly affects access to mental health services in different Asian languages. According to Cronkite News, a survey done by the American Psychological Association found that 89% of psychologists nationally could only provide services in English as of 2021, and only 1% provided services in Chinese, which was the only Asian language considered by the survey.

Jyothsna Bhat, a clinical psychologist in New Jersey, told Cronkite News that speaking a familiar and non-English language during treatment allows immigrants to feel more comfortable. “Certain words, certain modes of expression are not necessarily easily translated in English,” Bhat said.

Based on their research, CHPR’s policy recommendations include creating culturally specific awareness campaigns about mental health care, expanding training for language and cultural access in the existing mental health workforce, and developing a pipeline of AAPI mental health providers.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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