by Annette Eom
The Asian Pacific Islander (API) Mental Health Panel Discussion was held on February 23rd by the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA). The event was spearheaded by three guest speakers: Ruth Chung, an associate professor at School of Education at USC the Rossier School of Education, Caroline Lim, a second year doctoral student at the USC School of Social Work, and Daniel Park, a faculty member at the USC School of Occupational Therapy. The keynote speakers discussed the issues of Asian Pacific Islander mental health particularly in first generation immigrants and the barriers they face when seeking help. The panels emphasized that while there are significant difficulties for people facing mental problems, people still should seek help immediately.
The overall purpose of the panel discussion was to inform USC students of the roadblocks that most first generation Asian immigrants face in seeking mental health care. Chung hopes that the panel will encourage students to actively participate in reaching out to those needing care. Katherine Fu, the co-president of APAMSA, said, “The purpose of the panel is to not only raise awareness of these issues, but as future health professionals to hopefully learn strategies as part of having a greater cultural sensitivity and cultural awareness to combat these problems in their patient populations.”
According to Chung, first generation immigrants are likely to be at high risk of psychological dysfunction, as they experience the “most radical rupture that humans can ever experience” due to the barrier in language and the lack of social support network. Additionally API immigrants tend to consider mental care as a form of “stigma,” which leads them to fear that their positions as the heads of their households can be ruined. For these reasons, Asian Americans seek mental care often as the last resort. Even among the people who do seek treatment, some 50% of them drop out after the first day of program.
Lim mentioned that “the duration of untreated psychosis” in mental problems is comparable to a cancer; the longer one denies its existence and refrains from seeking professional help, the harder it becomes to treat. She further emphasized that parents must be aware of the importance of precautions and help, since most parents tend to misjudge the symptoms of their children’s mental problems as some sorts of spiritual possession or stress which can lead to more problems later on.
Park recommended that students should actively help those with mental problems and not stigmatize them by labeling them as “discrete others.”
Joy Phan, a sophomore at USC, said “The most interesting part of the event was the connection between cancer and mental health; for example, when someone has cancer they aren’t hesitant in seeking out treating for something ‘physical’ because there isn’t a shame factor associated with it. Yet when it comes to mental health issues, members of the API health community aren’t as apt to seek medical care or advice due to the stigma that it carries.
“Also…like cancer, the sooner it is treated, the more likely the condition can be healed or resolved. This panel allowed me to rethink my opinions of mental health in that it is just as important and requires the same medical and professional attention as does any physical ailments or conditions.”
Luis Chavez, a freshman at USC, said, “This API Panel was definitely helpful. It really brought a side of the medical community that really does not get much attention. I would really be interested in seeing other different sides of the medical community that do not get much attention.”
After the event, Chung said that even minority health issues should gain more attention and that she expects to see more non-API students to gain more awareness of such matter in the future. She added, “It is naïve for Asian students not to come thinking that they do not need to know since they are Asian and for non-Asian students to be indifferent in that they are not Asians, thus [this information is] irrelevant.”
APAMSA is a pre-medical student organization at USC that strives to address Asian Pacific American health issues in the community by participating in related community outreach and volunteering events and to provide pre-health students with resources and advice to help further their interest in medicine or help them decide whether medicine is for them.
APAMSA holds general meetings every other Thursday from 6PM to7PM in THH114. The club offers service opportunities such as volunteering at health fairs with USC Medical Students, and Hepatitis B screenings, as well as medical student shadowing opportunities. Their next event is the APAMSA Health Fair at mid-April which is a collaboration with the Chinatown Service Center.