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Mental health advocates say President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), which expands benefits to individuals facing mental health challenges, could go a long way in reaching those in the Asian American community in need of help.

“This is really important because the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community, historically, has had a lot higher rate of uninsured individuals as compared to the general population,” said Andrew Leonard, senior health policy associate at New York City-based Children’s Defense Fund.

Data shows that one in eight Asians in New York are without insurance, and that 83 percent of these are immigrants. The figures are higher for Koreans and Vietnamese. 

But thanks to the ACA, Leonard says an additional 20,000 Asian children in New York City will gain coverage. By 2016, he estimated that over 2 million nationally would have access to care. 

Advocates say that with the ACA expansion, medical practitioners need to develop culturally and linguistically sensitive approaches to increasing awareness and combating the stigma associated with mental health within the Asian community. 

Shirley Xie has spent a decade as a case manager at the Community Consultation Center in Manhattan. She says communicating in a more personal way works well with her clients.

“They listen and get what the problem is,” she explains. “I explain to them that it is just like any kind of health condition — it’s like having diabetes.”

As importantly, Xie says doctors need to recognize the financial constraints many immigrants labor under. 

“Of the over 200 cases that I handle, most not only they have mental health challenges, but also financial problems,” she said. Some are also undocumented immigrants, she added, making their situation even more precarious.

One of her clients, Xie says, lives in a small apartment with more than 10 extended family members spread out over five generations. 

“They don’t even know that being with 10 people in a studio apartment is … illegal,” she said. “A lot of them came from small villages in their home countries, so it can be hard for them to understand the system. For them, as long as they have a job in a garment factory or a restaurant, things will be OK.” (New America Media)