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White House Official Opens Up About Family Struggles with Mental Illness

One of President Obama’s top advisors on Asian American issues is being applauded for her candor after sharing her family’s personal history with mental illness during a speech this week. Kiran Ahuja, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, was delivering the keynote speech at the Asian American Psychological Association on Wednesday when she opened up about her brother’s suicide and the impact it had on her family.

“Losing my brother to suicide 15 years ago made me realize the importance of talking about mental issues in our community,” said Ahuja in her prepared remarks. “We must get past the cultural taboos and create an environment that encourages people to seek the help they desperately need.”

Public health officials hope that increased awareness and discussion among Asian Americans about mental health issues in the community will encourage more people to seek medical help or counseling. A 2007 study by Loyola Marymount University found that fewer than 9 percent of Asian Americans use mental health services. That’s in contrast to the 18 percent of the general population that utilizes such services.

Ahuja herself mentioned how important an open discussion of mental health was for doctors, patients and government officials alike. “In a way it humanizes the issues. Oftentimes there’s a personal story behind it all,” she said.

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