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New Bill Targets Asian-American, Pacific Islander Mental Health Stigma

by Agnes Constante /
A lone worker passes by the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, in October.JASON REED / Reuters file

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A bill to reduce mental health stigma in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced the Stop Mental Health Stigma in Our Communities Act last week coinciding with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month.

The bill would would require the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to work with advocacy and health organizations serving AAPI communities to implement outreach and education strategies about behavioral and mental health.

 Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Paul Sancya / AP

In an email to NBC News, Chu, who is a former clinical psychologist, said that although mental illness is treatable, cultural stigmas and linguistic barriers lead to lower rates of treatment in the AAPI community. The problem is exacerbated because of the model minority myth, she added, which gives the perception that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders don’t suffer from mental and behavioral disorders.

According to the American Psychological Association, Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services compared to whites.

“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.

RELATED: Asian-American Orgs Launch California Survey to Dismantle Model Minority Myth

Mental health issues among AAPIs vary across subgroups, but research has shown that Southeast Asian refugees, including Cambodian and Vietnamese Americans who fled war-torn countries, consistently experience high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Suicide and depression are also mental health concerns in the AAPI community. Compared to whites, Asian-American college students experience a higher rate of suicidal thoughts, according to the Asian American Psychological Association.

The mental health bill Chu introduced would provide interventions and treatments that are culturally and linguistically sensitive to AAPI subgroups, she said.

“Through messaging and outreach that reflect the unique cultural and language needs of our community, we can save lives and get individuals the help they deserve,” Chu said in a statement.

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