Destigmatizing Mental Health in Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities



By: Victoria Chau, Public Health Analyst, SAMHSA Office of Behavioral Health Equity and Roslyn Holliday-Moore, Public Health Analyst, SAMHSA Office of Behavioral Health Equity

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing population in the United States, representing numerous cultures, histories, languages and socio-demographic characteristics. While recognizably diverse, Asian and Pacific Islanders are not so different when it comes to their attitudes about mental health. Stigma associated with mental health problems is common in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Shaming related to mental health problems is a cultural norm in some Asian communities, leading many who have mental health problems to avoid seeking help despite the need.

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and during this national observance SAMHSA is highlighting two groups that have successfully engaged Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to learn about mental health—The Asian Pacific American Officers Committee of the U.S. Public Health Service and the Cambodian Family organization, a member organization of the SAMHSA National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health (NNED).

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander youth aged 12-19 years old. In light of this issue, the Asian Pacific American Officers Committee launched the Healthy Mind Initiative, in January 2018. The goal of the Initiative is to raise awareness about mental health among adolescents. This collaborative effort focuses on increasing mental health literacy among Asian American and Pacific Islander adolescents and parents by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate education. Since October 2018, the Committee has reached over 1100 individuals in underserved Asian American and Pacific Islander communities through the Initiative events and trainings. Additionally, the Montgomery County Council in Maryland recognized the Healthy Minds Initiative in May 2019 with a proclamation for their commitment to raising awareness about mental health and efforts among Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

The Cambodian Family has developed capacity to implement to promote healing from trauma and build resilience in their community. As the result of The Cambodian Family’s participation in SAMHSA’s NNEDLearn trainings, the organization was able to expand and sustain mental health services for refugee and immigrant families. Furthermore, The Cambodian Family was awarded approximately $500,000 from the Well Being Trust to implement the Body, Mind, and Spiritual Wellness program and approximately $37,000 from the County of Orange Health Care Agency to support the implementation of Early Intervention Services for Older Adults.

Asian Pacific American Officers Committee and The Cambodian Family have led the way in starting an important and needed conversation in Asian and Pacific Islander communities about mental health. By lifting up the culture and language that is innate in many Asian and Pacific Islander and immigrant communities, both groups shine a light onto a potential pathway to destigmatizing mental health.

Additional Resources:

SAMHSA Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander webpage

SAMHSA Issue Brief: A Snapshot of Behavioral Health Issues for Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Boys and Men: Jumpstarting an Overdue Conversation

SAMHSA Issue Brief: Advancing Best Practices in Behavioral Health for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Boys and Men

National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health NNEDShare webpage



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