In an effort to combat the stigma on mental health among Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), a new bill was introduced at the U.S. House of Representatives last week.
The bill, titled “Stop Mental Health Stigma in Our Communities Act,” was introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) in a timely fit for the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, NBC News reported.
Chu, a former clinical psychologist, told NBC News that while mental illness can be treated, there are lower rates of treatment in the AAPI community due to cultural stigma and language barriers. Asian-Americans are reportedly three times less likely to seek mental health services than their white counterparts.
She added that the situation, unfortunately, is worsened by the idea of the model minority, which assumes that AAPIs are always mentally sound and thus far from acquiring such illnesses.
“Unwillingness to talk about mental illness or seek treatment is causing needless pain. By addressing this stigma in a culturally sensitive way, we can save lives by getting more people the help and treatment they deserve,” Chu told NBC News.
Sara, a 30-year-old Chinese-American, is among those who faced stigma. In an interview with CBS News, she shared how her upbringing prevented her from speaking to anyone about emotional issues. She was bullied both in school and at home (by an older sister), molested by a relative and laughed at by her family when she finally sought help.
Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in late adolescence, Sara — who made countless suicide attempts — dealt with auditory and visual hallucinations, depression and paranoia all at the same time. She attributed getting better to medication compliance:
“Medication gave me my life back. If I didn’t take medication I’d probably be dead.”
With Chu’s bill, AAPIs like Sara may soon find solace in stepping forward to seek help. In essence, it hopes to provide interventions that are tailored to meet cultural and linguistic needs of the AAPI community. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in particular, will be mandated to coordinate with organizations working with AAPIs and eventually implement mental health awareness and modalities.