May 10 AAPI Briefing on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health

Check out our post by Johnny Thach, Advocacy Coordinator, and Janet Namkung, Campus Ambassador, who both attended the May 10th AAPI Briefing on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health at the White House!

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On the morning of Friday, May 10, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) and the White House Office of Public Engagement hosted an AAPI Briefing on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health at the White House. The event marked an intersection between the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and the National Mental Health Awareness Month. The date, May 10, also celebrated the Asian Pacific American Mental Health Day in California, San Francisco, and most recently Austin, Texas. The Briefing brought together community leaders, advocates, and students from across the country to begin a dialogue, a national conversation for reflection in order to destigmatize mental health, strengthen our community, change the culture, fight against bullying, harassment, and sexual abuse, and to prevent gun violence.

Mental health concerns affect hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) each and every day. Many more live with mental health concerns, but internalize them to be unrecognizable in public and do not seek the help needed. There is a cultural stigma with mental health in many AAPI families. Issues, such as depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, are not talked about until it is too late. As a child, you are filled with high expectations from your parents, to be hardworking and diligent in academics and beyond, that many times mental health becomes a begrudging topic of imperfection and laziness. This misunderstanding comes from the fact that many AAPIs grow up being taught that mental health is taboo, because of fear of reprisal and family shame. National studies found that in the last year around 15.8% of AAPI adults experience mental illnesses; however only 5.3% used mental health services, which is a low number relative to other groups. Again, around 3.8% of AAPIs experience major depressive episodes (MDE). Less than half of them receive services to treat MDE. AAPIs are less likely to seek mental health care, but also have fewer services per capita available to AAPIs than other groups not to mention low accessibility due to language needs.

Personal stories and narratives presented at the Briefing spoke volumes. When asked how many people knew someone that experienced mental health concerns, almost everyone stood in the room stood up. When asked if they knew someone that committed suicide, everyone stood up again. Both the speakers and panelists shared their own accounts and how mental health issues affected them on a personal level. It was about losing a family member or friend to suicide. It was about depression and bipolar disorder and finding the courage to confront the problem and find treatment. It was about saving lives; encouraging people to take early signs of mental illness seriously, creating conversation and dialogue to bring these issues to a national front, and helping people get treatment before it was too late.

Suicide is preventable, and it starts with creating a safe space, an environment to talk about mental illness, an initiative to stigmatize the taboo, and collective understanding from all of us to break the sense of shame and silence.