Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing population in the United States, representing numerous cultures, histories, languages and socio-demographic characteristics. While recognizably diverse, Asian and Pacific Islanders are not so different when it comes to their attitudes about mental health. Stigma associated with mental health problems is common in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Shaming related to mental health problems is a cultural norm in some Asian communities, leading many who have mental health problems to avoid seeking help despite the need.
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SAMHSA is focused on improving mental health across the lifespan and has worked with the National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging and the Administration on Aging/Administration for Community Living for over a decade to address the concerns of states, provider organizations, individuals, and families related to the mental health and substance use disorder needs of older adults. SAMHSA recognizes that older adults have needs that require special attention and training in order to provide the best care and treatment.
This week marks the first full week of Mental Health Awareness Month. I am pleased to share that we have started this week with SAMHSA’s 14th Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. The focus of this event was on suicide prevention in our youth. We chose to focus on this issue because of the disturbing and unacceptable rate of suicide in young Americans. Suicide is one of the ten leading causes of death in the United States and the numbers who die by suicide have only increased in recent years.
There has never been a better time to focus on suicide prevention in youth. SAMHSA’s 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that young adults ages 18 to 25 have the highest rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts of any age group. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, showed that in 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death among children, youth, and adolescents ages 10 to 24, behind automobile accidents.
Most people know that physical activity can reduce risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases, but fewer know that it is also important for mental health. Research suggests that exercise and physical activity can help to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. People of color, particularly youth, are less likely to be physically active compared to Whites and, in general, as people get older they exercise less. Since the U.S. population is becoming more racially diverse, more people are at risk for inactivity.
In 1976 President Gerald Ford honored the contributions of black Americans by issuing a proclamation that officially marked February as African American History Month. This proclamation continued to be issued by every president that followed. For the 2019 celebration, SAMHSA recognizes three leaders who have had significant impact on the mental health of their communities and beyond and have been important contributors to SAMHSA’s efforts to advance behavioral health equity for African Americans.