Healthy Mind Initiative Addresses Mental Health of Asian American and Pacific Islander Youth

By Victoria Chau, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

By Lieutenant Commander Kelly Leong
United States Public Health Service

By David J. Robles, B.A.
Graduate Intern, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

From left to right: Dr. Victoria Chau, SAMHSA, LCDR Kelly Leong , United States Public Health Service and Mr. David J. Robles, SAMHSA

July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness (NMMHA) Month—a practical time to highlight the importance of mental health for everyone. In a recent NIMHD Insights blog post, Dr. Xinzhi Zhang raised serious concerns about mental health awareness among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth and families. Suicide deaths have catapulted to the top as the leading cause of death for AAPI adolescents 12-19 years old in 2016.1 AAPI youth are the only racial/ethnic group for whom suicide is the leading cause of death, yet this is rarely discussed. The challenge of raising mental health awareness among AAPI communities is multifaceted but includes two key barriers: language issues and lack of culturally sensitive educators.

In response to this urgent challenge, the Healthy Mind Initiative (HMI) was established to create a collaboration across the federal, county, and community sectors with two intents. The first aim is to improve mental health literacy in AAPI communities. The second aim is to address the mental health stigma and cultural barriers to seeking mental health treatment faced by AAPI youth and communities. The HMI is led by the Asian Pacific American Officers Committee (APAOC) of the U.S Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS), in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Montgomery County Health and Human Service’s Asian American Health Initiative (AAHI), the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), and AAPI community organizations.

Unique to the HMI is its focus on leveraging APAOC as primarily non-mental health professionals to deliver key mental health messages to AAPI communities with the support of SAMHSA and AAHI. The mission of the USPHS is to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our nation. As America’s uniformed service of public health professionals, the Commissioned Corps achieves its mission through rapid and effective response to public health needs; leadership and excellence in public health practices; and advancement of public health science. The APAOC is uniquely positioned to deliver critical, culturally specific information to AAPI communities, as it consists of multilingual “trusted messengers” in their ethnic communities. These messengers also serve as advisors to the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General on AAPI issues. Each partner agency serves a specific role. SAMHSA provides the mental health expertise by developing the educational materials with input from its federal partners and the community organization leaders. These materials serve as a guide for APAOC officers to deliver mental health training modules. AAHI assists as the community outreach expert, trains the APAOC on “Mental Health First Aid” to equip members with the skills to conduct outreach activities, and provides community resources. NIMHD promotes the initiative and is a bridge to the health disparities federal and research community interested in multi-level collaboration.

This model highlights the potentially broad reach to diverse AAPI communities through the trusted APAOC and its partners. From this initiative, four key components to successful collaboration have emerged and include:

  1. Identifying a specific critical issue with partners who share a common vision
    A common purpose among partner agencies and community organizations is most essential to any collaboration and acts as the glue.
  2. Establishing specific roles for each partner
    Defining specific roles for each partner agency/organization from the start allows all partners to understand their role and how each complements one another, and prevents duplicating work.
  3. Securing leadership buy-in of each partner
    Having supportive leadership at each partner agency/organization help moves the project forward with greater ease and reach.
  4. Leveraging the existing resources from partners
    Each partner agency/organization has their own strength and network of resources; leveraging existing expertise and resources reduces time and cost.

The HMI seeks to reach a population that often views mental health negatively or not at all due to stigma, lack of awareness and education, and differences in cultural conceptualization of mental health. Currently being piloted in Montgomery County, Maryland, the HMI model is an example of collaboration working to reach health equity and may be expanded to other areas as needed. As we reflect during this NMMHA Month, it is important to remember that mental health is essential to overall well-being and health. To improve the trajectories of our youth, including minority youth such as AAPI youth, it is crucial for us to increase our understanding of mental health. To learn more about mental health and the HMI partners please visit:

Mental Health Resources

AAPI Mental Health Resources

HMI and Partner Websites


1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, 1981-2016. Retrieved from

Categories: Special Observance
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