Breaking mental health stigmas, recognizing mental illness in the Filipino community

SAN FRANCISCO — Students, educators, and professionals from all over the US gathered at San Francisco State University for the biennial conference, put on by the division on Filipino Americans or DOFA, of the Asian American Psychological Association.

Here, they share information about the most significant mental health risks facing the Filipino community while identifying the cultural tendencies they may be a negative influence.


“Filipino-Americans have higher rates of depression and suicide. Filipino-Americans have higher rates of substance abuse,” says psychologist Dr. Kevin Nadal. “Often times higher rates than not just other Asian-Americans but also the general American mainstream.”

Dr. Nadal of John Jay College of Criminal Justice says the stigma of mental illness must end.

“I think one of the biggest problems that is occurring in our community that isn’t being addressed is the idea that we can have mental health issues, we can get depressed, that we can have anxiety, that we aren’t able to talk about it because of hiya or shame.”

Psychologist Dr. EJ David — of the University of Alaska, Anchorage — gives examples of common Filipino responses that could lead to mental health issues getting overlooked.


“I think we should stop saying things like ‘oh, you’ll get over it’ or ‘it’ll pass’. Or ‘you’re just making that up in your head’. Or ‘why are you sad? There’s nothing for you to be sad about.”

David says that sometimes the best way to help someone who may be suffering from mental illness is simple: keep them company.

“Many times they might not even need or want to seek professional services. Maybe all that need is their family or their friend, to just be there with them not necessarily to problem solve but to just sit there with them without any fear or judgement.”

DOFA was created eight years ago and with this past conference — and continues to grow a network of students and professionals across the US, who are dedicated to understanding Fil-Am psychology and improving mental health.


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