SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — Dr. Danny Liu, a clinical psychologist based in the Bay Area, is encouraging everyone to make mental health a top priority.
Liu provides individual teletherapy to clients throughout California, including Sacramento. As a second-generation Chinese-American, he says he specifically works to support people in Asian communities due to the lack of representation in the mental health field.
"I went through my own therapy experience," Liu said. "It was very life changing. There was such a lack of providers who were culturally competent, and who could resonate and understand some of the challenges in the Asian and Asian American communities."
Liu is also a first-generation college and graduate school graduate. He earned a Doctorate of Psychology from California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University-San Francisco, APA Accredited Program. He also earned a BA in Psychology from the University of Southern California.
While in college, Liu says he changed majors from economics to psychology to help make a positive change in mental health services. That includes working to address barriers to mental health services in Asian American communities.
"I'm doing my part," Liu said. "My colleagues are doing their part too, in trying to support and provide as many resources and psychoeducation about some of the issues , including the barriers and stigma. It's all a collective effort."
Several barriers prevent people in Asian communities from accessing quality mental health services. That's according to research by the American Psychiatric Association, a psychiatric organization that works to advance mental health as part of general health and well-being.
Some of the cultural and structural barriers facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) include:
- The myth of model minority - a racial and ethnic minority group perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average - creates an unreasonable pressure on people to meet societal and familial expectation leading to poor mental health well-being.
- Lack of understanding about mental health and associated stigma, especially among first-generation immigrant AAPIs, lead to denial or neglect of mental health issues.
- Often mental illness is considered a weakness and source of shame and burden among the community.
- Lack of cultural competency among service providers may lead to misdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of mental health problems.
- Insufficient multilingual services in healthcare system.
- Lack of or insufficient health insurance, immigration status and high cost of mental health services increase challenges.
- Lack of accurate data, evaluation, and research on AAPI communities for them to seek mental health treatment.
- Lack of appropriate intervention strategies for diverse AAPI populations, inicluding integration of mental health and primary health care service.
- Lack of involvement of AAPI individuals and family members
The mental health field should adequately reflect our diverse communities to better address the mental health service needs of the entire U.S. population.
But, White people continue to make up the majority of the psychology workforce. That's according to the latest data from the American Psychological Association. It shows White people accounted for 84% of the psychology workforce, while Asian people made up only 3%.
In the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Monterey Park, along with the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and violence, Liu says more needs to be done to help people, specifically in AAPI communities, access mental health services and support, year-round.
"I think most people are still going through a lot of shock, including myself," Liu said. "It's very important for us to check in with ourselves and others at this time. People need to seek support and be able to talk about what's going on. It will really help people be able to heal and process this trauma."
Mental Health America (MHA) is a community-based nonprofit "dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all."
MHA works to promote mental health and prevent mental illness through advocacy, education, research and services. When a crisis strikes, MHA also encourages people, including those in AAPI communities, to talk about it, openly, to relieve stress and realize that others may share the same feelings.
"As a Vietnamese American, I feel like we've been through a lot," Theresa Nguyen, Chief Research Office of Mental Health America, said. "But, isolation is one of the most challenging things you can do. If you have people in you life, a church, or community, find that space and allow yourself to talk to others. It will help lift up your spirit."
MHA offers other coping strategies, like spending time with friends and family to help you through a tough time. If your family lives outside the area, MHA suggests staying in touch by phone. If you have any children, you might want to consider encouraging them to share their concerns and feelings about the disaster with you, too.
Mental health experts also reccomend, taking care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, exercising, and eating properly. If you smoke or drink coffee, MHA says, limit your intake, since nicotine and caffeine can also add to your stress. You should also limit exposure to images of the crisis. MHA says watching or reading news about the event over and over again will only increase your stress.
"It does take work to be vulnerable and share your feelings," said Nguyen. "Sometimes, I get choked up myself. But it is so powerful to be Asian. It also says something when you can go to a therapist, or go on the internet, and see someone who looks like you and talk about issues that are really difficult."
Pacific Asian Counseling Services (PACS) is a nonprofit based in Los Angeles County that works to provide "culturally sensitive and language services" to people in AAPI communities. PACS also offers telehealth services too.
Myron Quon, who lives in Monterey Park, is the executive director of PACS. He says he was only a mile and a half away from the incident - the mass shooting in Monterey Park - when it happened.
As a mental health professional and someone in the AAPI community, Quon works to provide support to others. But, he says more state and federal funding is needed to ensure boots on the ground in historically marginalized communities. That includes the possibility of mental health professionals and organizations setting up shop in communities, when a crisis happens, to provide immediate culturally competent care.
PACS, currently , offers several services, like counseling, case management, rehabilitation, medication, home visitation, outreach and education, parent education, and much more. But, Quon explains that PACS, along with other community-based organizations, can only do so much with limited funding and resources to tackle crisis situations.
"The White House and the state of California Governor Gavin Newsom need to think more about crisis response funding," Quon said. "There's not enough people, there's not enough money, to help support the growing crisis out there. This crisis started before the pandemic and ever since then, we only seen it increase and we're overwhelmed."
When a crisis strikes, remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. If you have strong feelings that won't go away or if you are troubled for longer than four to six weeks, health experts say you may want to seek professional help.
You can always make an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss how well you are coping with the recent events or join a support group.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a Disaster Distress Helpline 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress.
Toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the U.S. and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a crisis. Call or text 1-800-985-5990 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
If finances are preventing you from finding help, contact a local health or mental health clinic or your local government to see what services you qualify for. You can find contact information at the official SAMHSA website or by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).
If you or your loved one does not speak English, or are not fluent, you have the right to receive language-access services at institutions that receive funding from the federal government as well as the right to request a trained interpreter and to receive information in your language.
Below, you'll find a list of additional mental health resources to help support people in AAPI communities:
Mental Health Association for Chinese Communities: Mental Health Association for Chinese Communities is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness of mental health within the Chinese community through advocacy, education, research, support, and services to represent the wide spectrum of Chinese families and individuals affected by mental illness, and to help them develop meaningful and productive lives in the future.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) — Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders: ADAA is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and co-occurring disorders through education, practice and research. It has a dedicated webpage on AAPI resources and research information.
Asian American Health Initiative (AAHI): AAHI is a health and wellness initiative of Maryland’s Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. Its website is available in four Asian languages: Traditional Chinese, Hindi, Korean and Vietnamese.
Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA): AAPA is a San Francisco-based non-profit organization of Asian American mental health professionals, with the mission of advancing the mental health and well-being of Asian American communities through research, professional practice, education and policy.
Asian Mental Health Collective: A new global non-profit organization with the mission of normalizing and de-stigmatizing mental health within the Asian community through projects such as Facebook group, resource library, video web-series and meet-up groups.
Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF): Founded in 1986, APIAHF influences policy, mobilizes communities, and strengthens programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
Asian Pride Project: Asian Pride Project is a nonprofit organization that celebrates the journeys, triumphs and struggles of LGBTQ individuals and Asian and Pacific Islander (API) families and communities through the use of arts — film, video, photography and the written word — as a medium for social justice and advocacy.
Chinese-American Sunshine House: A non-profit organization based in Brooklyn that provides awareness programming and education workshops to Chinese-American families.
Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA): CAA advocates for systemic change that protects immigrant rights, promotes language diversity, and remedies racial and social injustice.
Each Mind Matters: Mental health support guide for Chinese-American communities.
GAPIMNY: Empowering queer and trans Asian Pacific Islanders.
Mental Health America: Asian American/Pacific Islander communities and mental health.
Mental Health Association for Chinese Communities (MHACC): MHACC is a California-based nonprofit organization with a mission of raising awareness of mental health within the Chinese community through advocacy, education, research and support.
MedlinePlus: MedlinePlus is a free service provided by the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health which presents high-quality, relevant health and wellness information in multiple languages, including about 20 AAPI languages.
National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association (NAAPIMHA): NAAPIMHA is a nonprofit organization with the mission of promoting the mental health and wellbeing of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA): NQAPIA is a federation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations.
Psychology Today: Psychology Today’s directory provides a comprehensive and searchable directory of therapists, psychiatrists and treatment facilities across the U.S. and includes a directory of Asian therapists.
Viet-Care: A California-based nonprofit organization providing mental health education, support and advocacy to Vietnamese-American families.