SEARAC Co-Sponsors CA Legislation To Improve Cultural Competence In Mental Health
By Nkauj Iab Yang
SEARAC has taken on the effort to co-sponsor California Assembly Bill (AB) 512 – Cultural Competence in Mental Health alongside the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Steinberg Institute, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network. AB 512 will improve county cultural competence plans and utilize both evidence-based and community-defined practices to address the mental health conditions of California’s diversity.
Due to war, genocide, and displacement, Southeast Asian Americans (SEAAs) experience particularly higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges compared to the general population. However, many SEAA refugees remain undiagnosed and untreated due to the cultural stigma and lack of culturally and linguistically competent mental health services. The California Department of Health Care Services reports that in fiscal year 2016-2017, “Asian and Pacific Islander” adults are the least likely racial group to access specialty mental health services even once, with just 2% of the population obtaining care. The high level of need for – and low utilization of – mental health services is alarming. When emotional wounds are left unhealed, the pain carries over to children and future generations in a cycle of intergenerational trauma.
On March 26, California Assembly member Phil Ting (D-19) introduced AB 512 in the California Assembly Health Committee. Yia Xiong, director assistant of the Hmong Cultural Center of Butte County, SEARAC partner, and former LAT alumnus, testified on how AB 512 will lead to more culturally and linguistically competent mental health services, providing “access [to] lifesaving care to finally end the war that [SEAAs] relive everyday.”
Yia shares, “The Hmong Cultural Center of Butte County has participated in the county’s cultural competence committee for many years. These engagements have yet to create concrete strategies to address mental health for the Hmong community due to the lack of oversight the cultural competence committee has regarding the county’s cultural competence plan.”
“Mental health services that are not culturally and linguistically appropriate to the SEAA community, communities of color, and LGBTQ+ community are not serving our communities and can lead to further stress and anxiety,” says Quyen Dinh, executive director of SEARAC. “We must hold counties accountable to provide culturally and linguistically competent mental health services for our families. Our community deserves the right to self-determination to address mental health conditions and to heal today so future generations won’t have to heal our trauma for us.”
With the powerful testimonial by Hmong Cultural Community Center of Butte County, and the ongoing advocacy efforts by community organizations across California, AB 512 passed unanimously, 15-0, out of the Assembly Health Committee and will head into the Assembly Appropriations Committee for a fiscal analysis.