*** My little sister, Khonsavanh works in the mental health industry. I asked her to write this article to increase awareness about this issue that may be overlooked by Laotians and everybody in general. If you think you have a mental disorder, do not be afraid to seek help with a professional health care provider. In case some of you are not quite sure what exactly mental illness or disorder means, here\’s a good definition/example from answer.com:\”Serious mental illness or disorder impairing a person\’s capacity to function normally and safely: brainsickness, craziness, dementia, derangement, disturbance, insaneness, insanity, lunacy, madness, psychopathy, unbalance. Psychiatry mania. Psychology aberration, alienation.\”
I have worked in the behavioral health field since 1994-both with children, teenagers, and adults. I have worked in Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Washington state inpatient and outpatient. In these 14 years I have only had 3 Asians on my caseload and these were within the last two years-at my previous job here in Phoenix as a Clinical Liaison for adults who were court ordered for treatment. I saw one Vietnamese man in Kansas who was involved in the mental health system but he was not my consumer (client). He was with another agency in another city and we had gone to a picnic in which that agency had invited us. I only saw him for a few hours but I can say that I am not sure that he was mentally ill or if he was placed with them because he did not speak English. Even though my grandfather is Vietnamese I never learned to speak the language so I was unable to communicate with him.
There are a great deal of diagnoses that could qualify someone to have a serious mental illness (SMI) but the major ones are Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Major Depression. Bipolar disorder is basically severe mood swings; Schizophrenia usually means the person hears voices, and Major Depression basically means you are so depressed you cannot function normally for 2-4 weeks. A person usually has to take medications to help relieve them of their symptoms. This is just a brief explanation-please read more about these diagnoses if you want to know more about them.
A person has to take medications for these diagnoses. The 3 Asians that I had personally worked with were Cambodian, Vietnamese/Caucasian, and Vietnamese. They were all men and their ages ranged from early to late 20’s to early 40’s. They were all court ordered to receive treatment because their behaviors were deemed a danger to themselves and others. Being court ordered meant that they had to see the psychiatrist monthly if they took medications and/or see their case manager monthly who would monitor their progress. The court order would last a year but if the person exhibits a need for a longer period of time-the psychiatrist can extend it. The Cambodian man was also developmentally delayed (low IQ) and was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. What made him interesting was that he could not speak English-but he had a Cambodian interpreter. The half Vietnamese half Caucasian man was diagnosed as having Bipolar-he stayed up for days on end, acting erratic, and had been off his medications. He spoke perfect English. The Vietnamese man had made some statements to his wife and others around him that he wanted to kill himself and others. He spoke limited English. I mention how well they speak English because it does matter in regards to how easy or difficult it is for them to get services and/or how they follow the court order. I found out that at times it does not take a lot to be court ordered and at times it takes a lot more than what someone says they overheard or saw.
I saw these 3 men at the beginning because I had to complete the assessment and their treatment plan. Then the case managers that I supervised took over the actual home visits and follow up. I also did some of these when the case managers could not. It still amazes me that there are not a lot more Asians-especially SE Asians receiving services. I am sure we all know some of the reasons such as: we do not ask for help, the community or family takes care of us or we don\’t recognize it as a problem. etc.
In Washington state-there was actually an agency called the Asian Counseling agency. However,I did not work for them. In fact, I did not know they even existed until I was moving. I thought this was great. Los Angeles also has a couple of agencies that cater to Asians with mental illness and New York City has a few too. One of my goals is to work in an agency that specifically works with Asians but there are none here in Phoenix. Just like with anything else. There are pros and cons in me working with just the Asian population.
Mental illness is still something that people hide-especially the Asian community. On the one hand they might like it that they see someone who looks like them but on the other hand they might feel ashamed or apprehensive about working with someone who looks like them. I have a double edged sword to deal with because there are even less SE Asians seeking mental health services. As some of you are aware :the biggest Asian population are Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino. There are even more Cambodians than Laotian or Thai people who seek out these services. Even in the agencies in Los Angeles, Seattle, Tacoma, New York-that target Asians-it is rare that they mean Lao and Thai people. In order for me to get hired in these agencies-there has to be a lot more Lao and Thai consumers than there are now. This is the reason why I work in agencies that work with the mainstream population. So when I do see an Asian consumer (client) both of us look at each other in surprise but it also gives me hope that in the future more of us will not be afraid or ashamed to seek help. I also see a little relief at times that they see someone who looks like them and can understand their culture. I am sure everyone knows that Asian (all kinds) have the same problems as Caucasians, African Americans, and Hispanic population. If any of you see a loved one or someone in your Asian community who needs services-please help them get these service. For further info, go to http://www.nami.org/Hometemplate.cfm or go to http://www.mhasp.org/coping/quiz.html to take a quiz on this issue.
Why are Laotians afraid to get help for mental illness? Is it shame? Fear?Distrust? Lack of information or education? </blockquote