Working to Reduce Behavioral Health Disparities for the AAPI Population

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) often lack access to mental health and substance abuse services and face stigma and cultural barriers to seeking care, and when they do seek treatment, culturally and linguistically appropriate services are often not available.  In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Office of Behavioral Health Equity (OBHE) recently hosted a roundtable on strategies for reducing behavioral health disparities and promoting integrated care for the AAPI population.  Dr. Rocco Cheng, project director of the California Reducing Disparities Project’s AAPI workgroup, gave a presentation on his workgroup’s efforts and findings on AAPI-specific disparities and effective strategies for addressing them.  Among them, Dr. Cheng reported that culturally and linguistically responsive strategies are critical for reaching out to and serving AAPI communities.

In addition, two SAMHSA Primary and Behavioral Health Care Integration project grantees shared their organizations’ accomplishments in bringing primary care into a behavioral health care setting.  Dr. Jane Yi of Asian Community Mental Health Services in Oakland, California noted the importance of developing extensive brokerage services such as interpretation and translation to ensure a warm handoff between the behavioral health care team and the primary care provider. Yoon Joo Han of Asian Counseling and Referral Services in Seattle, Washington shared the successes of culturally-focused wellness activities as part of a transformation from a behavioral health focus to a wellness approach.

The roundtable provided the opportunity for SAMHSA, other Department of Health and Human Services agencies, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), and AAPI organizations to focus on the behavioral health needs of the AAPI population and learn more about effective, culturally appropriate strategies for reducing disparities—outcomes that reflect OBHE’s mission.  OBHE was established by the Affordable Care Act and focuses on addressing the mental health, substance abuse and related conditions of often underserved racial, ethnic and sexual minority populations.  Our strategy and activities are driven by federal plans to address health disparities, and we look for ways SAMSHA can improve access to quality services.

In March, SAMHSA’s National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health (NNED) partnered with the National Latino Behavioral Health Association to convene its second annual training meeting, NNEDLearn 2012, for behavioral health practitioners and administrators from community-based organizations serving diverse racial and ethnic minority communities. The focus of this initiative is to improve the quality of care by providing training in evidence-based and culturally adapted evidence-based practices and to address workforce gaps in the provider organizations. NNEDLearn 2012 involves 125 practitioners participating in teams from 35 organizations, who selected among six training tracks, including culturally adapted cognitive behavioral therapy for Hispanics and suicide prevention for tribes.  Following the meeting, these six training groups continue in virtual communities of practices for coaching and ongoing web-based training over the next six months.  One of the NNEDLearn 2012 teams came from the Karen Organization of Minnesota, which assists Karen and other refugees from Burma with settling, integrating and achieving self-sufficiency.

Also in March, SAMHSA and the Pacific Behavioral Health Collaborating Council (PBHCC) launched the Master Trainer Development Program for the Pacific Jurisdictions.  This one-year training and skill-building effort is designed to develop the expertise of a set of Pacific Islander Master Trainer candidates to provide behavioral health training to their colleagues.  The launch in Guam introduced 18 Master Trainer candidates representing the six Pacific Jurisdictions.  SAMHSA will be working with the PBHCC to identify host sites for each of the candidates to receive training in their selected areas of focus.

Through each of these initiatives, OBHE has developed strong partnerships with community members and providers to support efforts to improve behavioral health for diverse populations, including the AAPI community.  Please visit our website to learn more about our work.

Larke N. Huang Ph.D. is the Director of the Office of Behavioral Health Equity at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Juliet Bui is a Health Analyst at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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