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Culturally-Competent Mental Health Support: Screaming into an Empty Well

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

The theme for 2023 is Community, Culture and Connection. The critical role of Cultural Competency in Mental Health, especially in the Asian community, is very important to me.

As we pass the 5th anniversary of my husband’s decision to end his life, I can’t help but  wonder what would be different if my late-husband and soulmate would  have had access to culturally-competent, professional mental health care. What might my life be like today had he worked through his demons instead of self-medicating? We have just passed  graduation season and while I congratulate graduating seniors  everywhere, I ask, how many are going to become mental health  professionals? Our healthcare system was limping along before COVID,  but today it can take months to book an appointment with a therapist to get support for your mental health. Particularly, I reflect upon the  devastating loss of my husband to suicide and the urgent need for culturally-competent mental health support. A culturally-competent therapist may have been able to break through to get him the help he needed. But how many Chamorro-Hawaiian-Japanese therapists have you met in your life?

My husband struggled with addiction. We had a very tempestuous and codependent relationship during college. Then we were apart for several years until we came back together again, having presumably worked through our “stuff.” Less than a year later we were married. However, a few years into our marriage it became apparent that we had issues to work through. We went through several therapists and he refused to show up to do the work for many reasons, but a big reason was because of the stigma around getting help. After five more years of struggling we separated, he succumbed to a deep and overwhelming depression, tragically returning to drugs which eventually led to the decision to take his own life. I feel like if he would have had a mental health professional who could have reached him so he felt understood before things got too bad, he would still be here with us today. He was caring and intelligent and hiLARious, but he lacked coping skills and was resistant to getting mental health help.

For the past few  years, I have been a board member for the Avery Burton Foundation and we have a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) to make sure every person knows someone who is certified in Mental Health First Aid. Through ABF, we are a MHFA training center, provide annual  scholarships to high school seniors, share mental health first aid tips, and connect individuals with culturally-competent mental health resources (subscribe to stay updated).

There was a 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health  (NSDUH) by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration  (SAMHSA). What they found was that the prevalence of any mental illness (a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder ranging from mild to severe) was highest among the adults reporting two or more races (34.9%), followed by American Indian / Alaskan Native adults (26.6%). The prevalence of any mental illness was lowest among Asian adults (16.4%).

In my upcoming book, “Mastering Resilience: Lessons Learned on the Path to Emotional Strength,” I delve into several themes, including the pervasive stigma  surrounding mental health and the need to understand  that mental health issues can be invisible, but debilitating. Mental  illness pays no heed to one’s ethnicity, age, or gender identity.

In honor of my late-husband I donate a $1000 scholarship to the Avery Burton Scholarship Fund every year and I mentor First Generation Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander college students to share my experiences and guide them along their career path. I can only play big sister to a limited number of people, however. What we need are more diverse professionals in the mental health industry. We can achieve this by centering mental wellness more. This reduces the stigma around managing our emotional well-being and will encourage more young people to choose career paths in areas of psychiatry, psychology, peer counseling, and more.

There are some culturally-competent resources out there locally such as our friends at Solutions of Change. I have seen scholarships specifically focused to encourage more students to choose careers in the mental wellness industry, but we  still have a long way to go. My wish for everyone is access to the mental health care required to deal with the  collective and individual traumas we experience daily. In fact, the Center for Disease Control says that 1 in 5 of us will experience a  mental health crisis at some point in our lives. Knowing how to recognize early signs and symptoms, as well as being able to speak with nuance, cultural sensitivity, and without judgment can help someone through a crisis until they can get to a professional. That’s why I decided to join the board of directors for the Avery Burton Foundation and become a MHFA Trainer.

I believe in the mission to raise awareness to reduce the stigma around mental health. We are not a suicide prevention organization. We leave that up to the  professionals. Our focus is raising awareness about  mental health and connecting people with culturally-competent resources through our ABF Mental Health Champions program, educational programs,  annual  scholarships, annual Hike n’ Heal event, and the ABF Resiliency Project. We are not doctors or mental health professionals. We are suicide-loss survivors and having been through hell, we “walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire.”

One thing those of  us who are not licensed professionals can do is practice emotional resilience techniques to help strengthen our ability to process, overcome, and rebound from adversity a more resilient person.

Historically the narrative around #BIPOCMentalHealth has been on disparities and trauma. Working together, we can change the narrative by centering the conversation around community and the importance of introducing diverse students into professional fields such as social work. Another BHAG to help fill an empty well.”

Christina Aldan is a speaker, trainer, and brand strategy consultant for Arana Software. She is the author of “Imposter: Memoir of a Fraud” and “Mastering Resilience: Lessons Learned on the Path to Emotional Strength.” Learn more at:

Christina Aldan (she/her)
Consultant, Arana Software
+1.702.525.5142 |

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