COMMUNITIES
06/06/2017 12:23 pm ET

Rep. Judy Chu Introduces Bill To Break Mental Health Stigma Among Asian-Americans

Asian-Americans are three times less likely than whites to seek mental health services.
Leigh Vogel via Getty Images

A congresswoman is taking steps to address a rarely discussed issue in the Asian-American community. 

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) recently introduced a bill that would help increase mental health awareness among Asian-Americans and also aim to end the negative stigma associated with the topic. 

“If members of the community do not know that that help is there ... the alternative is suffering in silence.”

The legislation covers an issue that’s personal to Chu, who’s actually a former clinical psychologist. She told HuffPost that mental health in the community has long gone undiscussed, and she hopes that the bill will help Asian-Americans understand that there are resources out they can take advantage of. 

“I worked with trauma victims and others who had mental health problems and saw firsthand how important it was to take that first step to call a crisis hotline or reach out for help,” she told HuffPost in an email. “If members of the community do not know that that help is there ... the alternative is suffering in silence.”

The bill would call for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, to partner with local advocacy and behavioral health organizations and develop outreach and education strategies appropriate for Asian-Americans, Chu told HuffPost. This also means implementing culturally understanding and language-appropriate resources among other goals. 

“Stigma around mental health has kept AAPI community members from talking about it or even understanding it.”

“The first step is education,” Chu explained to HuffPost. “Stigma around mental health has kept AAPI community members from talking about it or even understanding it. Many do not even know that mental health is a treatable illness, not a cause for shame.”

As the congresswoman brought up, mental health is difficult subject for the Asian-American community. But statistics show it’s also one that cannot be ignored. Senior Asian-American women have the highest rates of suicide compared to any other race. In New York City, more than half of the minority’s seniors expressed symptoms of loneliness or depression. And a 2005 study found that the Cambodian community has “shockingly high” rates of post traumatic stress disorder and depression with some communities having as high as almost two-thirds of adult population with these issues ― compare that to the 6.7 percent of the general U.S. adult population that has major depression. 

Howeve, as Chu mentioned, the issue has largely flown under the radar in part because of the stigma attached to the subject, which has kept many back from speaking up. In fact, Asian-Americans are three times less likely than whites to seek mental health services. Many find it hard to speak out due to the fear of “losing face,” or bringing shame to their families, experts say.

Moreover, the Asian-American mental health is further obscured by the model minority stereotypes, which mask the need for resources to be devoted to the topic. Which has contributed to the “glaring” health discrepancies between the Asian-American community and the rest of the country, Chu told HuffPost. 

“That is why I introduced this bill, to address the stigma in a culturally sensitive way and close the gap in care,” she said. 

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