White House Holds Forum on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Tiffany Ho, M.D., describes her memories of her uncle – a military doctor, who would regale her with tales of lifesaving and survival in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. But one memory, in particular, stands out: the day the uncle she knew was replaced by a stranger, overcome by the traumas of war and removed from reality. He eventually took his own life.
“Mental health awareness and access to culturally appropriate services need to be highlighted as a top priority in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. My uncle was a surgeon during the Vietnam War and the war affected him in the most profound way. His suicide was a call to action for us to dedicate ourselves to raising awareness and promoting access to high quality mental health services, especially for those from underserved communities,” said Dr. Ho, Mental Health Medical Director of the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System.
This spring, leaders from SAMHSA and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders convened a forum to continue the national dialogue from the May 2013 White House Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Briefing on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health. Dr. Ho and other community leaders convened to address workforce development, integrated primary and behavioral health care, data efforts, and community engagement.
It may be difficult for people within the AAPI community to recognize behavioral health concerns because of a lack of awareness and acceptance of mental and substance use disorders. And even when such problems are acknowledged, cultural beliefs and norms, as well as language barriers, can make it difficult to get help. Feelings of shame and guilt may surface. This was true for Dr. Ho’s family, who once regarded her uncle as a hero, but later struggled to talk about what happened and acknowledge the mental health concerns that would affect family members in the future generations that followed.
Despite the prevalence of behavioral health conditions, connection to appropriate services is limited. According to findings from SAMHSA's 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, AAPIs are least likely among all racial groups to use mental health services. The fastest growing racial population in the United States (U.S. Census, 2010), the AAPI community has experienced widespread behavioral health disparities that can affect the occurrence of disease, morbidity, mortality, and survival rates.
Coinciding with AAPI Heritage Month, the forum celebrated diversity and the contributions of the AAPI community, especially efforts to improve behavioral health.
Addressing forum participants, SAMHSA Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto, said “We recognize the extraordinary efforts of our grantees to ensure that the services they provide are culturally and linguistically appropriate. Those who serve this community know that language barriers can prevent people in the AAPI community from seeking and receiving quality treatment. In addition, language and culture are critical components of a responsive behavioral health care framework that bridges traditional and Western medicine.”
SAMHSA speakers provided overviews of their related efforts and resources. Trina Dutta, M.P.P., M.P.H., described the Primary and Behavioral Health Care Integration (PBHCI) grant program. Minnjuan Flournoy Floyd, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., presented information on SAMHSA data efforts; and H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, described SAMHSA workforce development efforts. Speakers also discussed mental health and substance use challenges related to the AAPI population.
“While the data show that the prevalence of behavioral health conditions among AAPIs is, generally lower than in other racial groups, this may be due to their low utilization of behavioral health services and tendency to seek services at a later stage. The burden of behavioral health conditions in this community may be greater than it appears,” said Larke Huang, Ph.D., Director of SAMHSA’s Office of Behavioral Health Equity.
Community leaders shared their expertise, personal stories, and experiences, including the methodology behind a representative survey on Pacific Islander health and the implementation of an integrated care program in a community health center serving a predominantly Asian American population. Colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics shared the origins and methodology for the first-ever National Health Interview Survey on Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
Building on the background provided by the presentations, attendees participated in collaborative discussions to explore the four critical issue areas in greater depth and to stimulate peer-to-peer learning, discuss best and promising practices, address disparities, identify gaps and research needed, and generate key action steps for SAMHSA and the community.
- Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander: Behavioral Health and AANHPI
- Suicidal Thoughts among Asians, Native Hawaiians, or Other Pacific Islanders