Empowering New York’s Asian American Community Since 1989

Report on Overcoming Challenges to Mental Health Services for Asian New Yorkers

New York City: This morning, the Asian American Federation released our newest report on Overcoming Challenges to Mental Health Services for Asian New Yorkers. This report is based on a year-long study that included focus groups, interviews, and convenings with approximately 20 Asian nonprofit organizations providing direct or indirect mental health services in New York City. In the report, we highlight the increasing visibility of mental health needs in New York City’s Asian community and provide recommendations for addressing the major challenges for increasing mental health services for the Asian community.

In New York City, where there are now 1.3 million Asian New Yorkers comprising 15 percent of the total population, Asians are the only racial group for which suicide has been one of the top 10 leading causes of death from 1997 to 2015. In New York State, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Asian Americans ages 15-24 and the third leading cause for those ages 10-14 and 25-34. These numbers, coupled with the historic lack of investment in Asian communities by government and funders, point to a growing mental health situation for New York City’s fastest-growing population.

Specifically, the Asian community only received 1.4 percent of social service contract dollars from the city from 2002 to 2014, of which a mere 0.2 percent came from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In addition, of the Asian organizations that responded to our survey regarding their mental health service capacity, less than 20 percent said they received funding to provide clinical mental health services and only 35 percent said they received funding to provide non-clinical mental health services.

In our report, we highlight the following four major challenges to mental health services for Asian New Yorkers:

The scarcity of community education programming that is linguistically and culturally competent to build awareness and acceptance of mental health as a health concern, as mental illness is deeply stigmatized in many Asian communities and mental health care is viewed as a Western concept;
The shortage of linguistically and culturally competent mental health practitioners and services, which is particularly egregious in areas of specialty, such as drug or alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, domestic violence, and LGBTQ topics and challenges;
Access to mental health care services in general, as there are few entry points beyond individualized therapy and the cost of services is a deterrent for those without health insurance; and
The lack of research into the mental health needs of and service models that work best for the Asian community due to the absence of disaggregated data for Asian ethnicities and funders’ proposal criteria that oftentimes exclude integrated or alternative service models.
In order to address these challenges and increase mental health services for the Asian community, the Federation makes the following recommendations to the City, State, and funders:

Invest in Asian-led and Asian-serving community-based organizations to create community education programs to introduce the concept of mental health in a linguistically and culturally competent manner.
Invest in Asian-led and Asian-serving organizations to build relationships with and provide mental health training for trusted voices and leaders in the community.
Provide funding support for Asian-led and Asian-serving organizations to hire culturally competent mental health providers and train mainstream mental health providers to develop their cultural competency.
Fund initiatives to create networks of mental health program staff and practitioners to share knowledge and resources regarding best practices and available services.
Fund Asian organizations’ efforts to engage community members at the places where they seek help.
Support programming that integrates mental health services through other services.
Invest in support groups run by Asian organizations for clients who are receiving treatment and/or are on medication.
Funders need to provide broader proposal criteria for research opportunities in order to increase access for Asian organizations.
Invest in research projects that would serve to build mental health service capacity in the Asian community.
Support policies to implement the disaggregation of data for the Asian community.
Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Federation, said, “Since the Federation began reporting on the high rates of depression among our seniors in 2003, we knew that mental health was a growing community concern that we would need to prioritize in our research and advocacy work. Mental illness touches every Asian community. This report underlines the urgency of investing in linguistically and culturally competent mental health services so we don’t continue to see these high rates of depression and suicide increase in our community. We must not ignore the burgeoning yet treatable needs in the fastest-growing population in New York City.”

Jun Matsuyoshi, director of mental health services at Apicha Community Health Center, touched on the need for family outreach in providing mental health care to the Asian LGBTQ community. “Those who provide mental health and social services to the Asian community would do well to reach immigrant families who want their children to engage in ‘saving face’ by denying their sexual orientation and gender identity. Having to choose between their families’ needs and their own needs contributes to despair among Asian LGBTQ individuals and tears at the fabric of family cohesion.”

Rama Issa-Ibrahim, executive director of Arab American Association of New York, said, “There are real mental health needs in the Arab immigrant and Arab American community, especially in light of the trauma that our community faced after 9/11 and continues to face in today’s anti-Muslim climate. With all the various dialects in our community, there must be investment made to build the capacity for in-language, culturally-specific mental health services for our growing community.”

Clara Yoon, founder of API Rainbow Parents of PFLAG NYC, said, “I am thrilled to see this important report being published by the Asian American Federation. As a founder of API Rainbow Parents of PFLAG NYC and a proud Korean American mom of a bisexual, transgender son, I have observed in the past several years the negative and often devastating impact of the misguided perception of LGBTQ topics, compounded by the stigma around mental health issues within the Asian American community. Many Asian LGBTQ people and their parents suffer in silence while they deal with prejudice and judgment from the Asian American community and their extended family members. I hope this report helps shed light on the need for culturally competent and LGBTQ-affirming mental health care for the LGBTQ people and their parents and family members, and help build the resources they desperately need.”

Christy Parque, president and CEO of The Coalition for Behavioral Health, said, “This report sets forth a critical course of action necessary to address the under-resourcing of the safety net for mental health services in New York’s Asian communities. We must do better to support the community-based organizations that bridge the cultural and linguistic divide that prevent New Yorkers from seeking services due to stigma and lack of culturally appropriate mental health and addiction services.”

Isabel Ching, executive director of Hamilton-Madison House, said, “For over 30 years, Hamilton-Madison House has built a pan-Asian-focused behavioral health program in response to the rising rates of mental health challenges across the pan-Asian community, but our growth has not kept pace with the demand for services. We have a long waitlist of clients who need to see a mental health practitioner who speaks their language, but mental health issues need to be treated right away before they worsen. We need our elected officials and funders to understand the growing crisis in our community and invest in more capacity for linguistically and culturally competent services.”

Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, executive director of India Home, said, “As a geriatric psychiatrist working with immigrant populations in Queens, I am well aware of the vast need for linguistically and culturally competent mental health services in Asian communities. Mental health services need to better integrate with social services, and institutions need to do more to harness the abilities of community-based organizations who work closely with these populations. AAF’s mental health report is a vital step in bringing the gap in targeted mental health services to light.”

Susan J. Onuma, president of the Japanese American Association of New York, said, “As an organization that has served and continues to serve the needs of both immigrants from Japan who have survived the bombings of World War ll as well as U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly removed from their homes on the West Coast and sent to concentration camps across the U.S., we applaud the efforts of the Asian American Federation in preparing this report that is so vital to understanding and resolving the mental health challenges of our community.”

Linda Lee, executive director of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, said, “Asian seniors and women have some of the highest suicide rates all across racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. Two years ago, Korean Community Services opened up the first state-licensed mental health clinic for the Korean community in New York, and we have surpassed our goal for serving clients by more than double, which demonstrates the need and desire for culturally and linguistically sensitive mental health services. This report is an invaluable tool to advocate for the needs of our community, and elected officials and funders must respond to the recommendations if they are serious about supporting our community.”

Chhaya Chhoum, executive director of Mekong NYC, said, “Everyday challenges that the Southeast Asian community faces can trigger the trauma of what they experienced back home in Cambodia or Vietnam. This trauma is intergenerational, so many of our young people also have secondary trauma from growing up in households where their parents’ PTSD was never addressed. It is now more important than ever that we provide trauma-informed care to our community. Community-based organizations are often at the frontline of their communities to provide these services but are under-resourced and under-valued. This report really spotlights the mental health service needs that we know have existed in our communities for years and holds government and funders accountable to investing in our needs.”

Kavita Mehra, executive director of Sakhi for South Asian Women, said, “Sakhi congratulates AAF for their groundbreaking report highlighting the multilayered mental health needs of NYC’s Asian community. At Sakhi, many of the survivors that walk through our doors are dealing with complex mental health challenges, from isolation and depression to low self-esteem. As we support our community, we continue to make mental health a critical priority in healing and recovering from abuse and look forward to the positive changes that can come from increased awareness and advocacy around immigrant mental health needs.”

Alison Karasz, executive director of Sapna NYC, said, “We need funding to devise services that integrate psychological services with initiatives that address the core social and economic problems that lead to mental disorders – services that support social integration and economic empowerment, along with traditional treatments such as psychotherapy.”

Melissa Aase, executive director of University Settlement, said, “University Settlement has worked diligently over the past decade to break down the deeply rooted stigma of mental illness in Asian communities through creative, low-barrier community education programs, both within our programs and through inter-agency collaborations. While we are pleased to begin to see an increased willingness among Asian community members to engage, the service gap remains vast, and too often, we are seeing Asian clients when the mental health condition has already risen to a crisis level or hospitalization stage due to the lack of preventive services. University Settlement is thrilled that the unique and complex mental health challenges faced by Asian New Yorkers, who often feel overlooked and invisible, are being highlighted in this report. We trust that the recommendations presented will bring about needed resources and will support the important work that is already being done in Asian-serving organizations.”

The Asian American Federation works to raise the influence and well-being of the pan-Asian American community through research, policy advocacy, public awareness, and organizational development. Established in 1989, AAF supports over 40 Asian American community service agencies, which work to meet the critical needs of the fastest-growing population in New York City. For more information, please visit www.aafederation.org.

2123445878, Ext:226
[email protected]