CHAI at Ethnicity and Health in America Series; Exploring Family Dynamics and Stress

By Sophia Kuziel, MPH

Last week, fellow board member, Urmi Chakrabarti, and I attended an Ethnicity and Health in America Series event in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The American Psychological Association, AARP’s Community Outreach Committee, and the DC Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs sponsored the panel discussion entitled, “Great Expectations: Exploring Family Dynamics and Stress.”

The event opened with an excerpt from the documentary Can: What Does It Take to Heal fromCAN Mental Illness. The film focuses on Can Truong who is a mental health consumer activist. Mr. Truong was present at the panel event and enthusiastically shared details of his struggles with the US mental health system as an Asian immigrant.

One of Mr. Truong’s major struggles was receiving mental health treatment that was lacking in cultural competency. His initial diagnosis of depression was treated without considering his traumatic immigration to the US during the Vietnam War and the bullying he experienced growing up in Dayton, Ohio. The depression medication he was prescribed resulted in a manic episode and a later diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. Over the course of Mr. Truong’s mental health treatment, he was prescribed 20 different medications and received 15 electroconvulsive shock treatments.  According to Mr. Truong, with culturally competent mental health professionals, his journey towards mental health recovery and healing would be less onerous.

Mr. Truong finally found health and balance by practicing alternative and traditionally Asian hand meditationmethods of healing. He noted that Mindfulness Meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, and acupuncture are practices that can greatly improve the mental health of some individuals. Mr. Truong is also a strong proponent for culturally sensitive peer support, an intervention that can be of service to especially underserved communities and adresses the stigma and discrimination individuals experience as a result of a diagnosis.

Addressing and eliminating stigma surrounding mental illness is one of CHAI’s main goals. Stigma exists in most cultures, but the research has shown that within the Asian-American community, it can prevent individuals from seeking treatment. Mental health stigma is also perpetuated when an individual with a mental health diagnosis faces barriers in gaining access to mainstream American society.  The individual does not receive the appropriate assistance finding employment, or in Mr. Truong’s case, completing his degree. The stressors of trying to save face within the community and facing barriers in gaining access to American society and mainstream mental health services can exacerbate symptoms.

Mr. Truong’s experience is an example of fearlessness in addressing mental illness and stigma.  We were privileged to be in his presence and hear him speak so openly about his struggles and successes and his new role as a mental health consumer activist. Check out: http://amongourkin.org/index.html for more information about the documentary.

If you are interested in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, please join CHAI and DC Mayor’s Office at a screening of English Vinglish on May 22, 2013 at the E Street Cinema. Register for the movie at http://englishvinglish.eventbrite.com/.

sophia urmi

CHAI Board Members Urmi Chakrabarti and Sophia Kuziel with Can Truong.

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sophiaSophia Kuziel recently completed her Master in Public Health degree from George Washington University with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health. She also holds a B.A. in Psychology and Criminology from University of Maryland, College Park. Sophia’s public health interests focus on adolescent health, including sexual and reproductive health, intimate partner violence, and teen pregnancy and parenting. Sophia embraces a holistic perspective on health issues, acknowledging the interplay between physical health, mental health, and interpersonal relationships.

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