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Studies Cite Depression Factors Among Filipino Americans

Philippine News, News Report, Pasckie Pascua Posted: Nov 13, 2008

LOS ANGELES A survey of more than 6,000 South Los Angeles high school students conducted by Loyola Marymount last spring revealed that many are frightened by violence in school, deeply dissatisfied with their choices of college preparatory classes, and exhibit symptoms of clinical depression.

Rodolfo Jose M. Doria, Jr., a 9th grade student at Alain Leroy Locke High School in South LA, near Watts, is one of them. On May 10, the 14-year-olds school was the site of a major fight that broke out between African American and Latino students during the lunch hour and involved over 600 students.

Dorias father, a postal clerk who just lost his job, is a native of Lagawe town in the Philippines Mountain Province; his mother is a reliever cashier at a neighborhood 99 Cents Store. The Dorias are currently subsisting mostly on food stamps, unemployment doleouts, and delihensya, as Dad calls his odd job forays.

Apart from poverty, Rodolfo and his younger sisters are faced with a far deeper pressure, as he puts itthat of racial confusion.

I get beaten up or threatened just because I look like Latino, he told Philippine News. Sometimes, I just dont want to go out of the house at all. But I want to finish high school at least. We are so poor to be able to move to another city or state. Parang wala nang remedyo. Rodolfo and his siblings are raised in a traditionally Catholic, conservative family values, says their 46-year-old father, Rodolfo, Sr.

A lot of students are depressed because of the conditions in their school. They see that their school is failing them, their teachers are failing them, theres racial tension and gang violence, and also many feel that their schools are not schoolstheir school look more like prisons, explains the Loyola Marymount research.

Filipino Americans like the Dorias are the subject of another study by Francis Sanchez, M.D. and Albert Gaw, M.D., of G. Werber Bryan Psychiatric Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina and San Franciscos Department of Public Health, respectively.

Filipino Americans are the second-fastest-growing Asian immigrant group in the United States, following the Chinese. Yet there exists a dearth of information on mental health issues concerning Filipino Americans, who represent a diverse mixture of culture, beliefs, and practices and vary widely from other minorities as well as from the larger population, writes Sanchez and Gaw in American Psychiatric Foundations website, published June last year.

This group has experienced emotional and behavioral challenges in acclimatizing to Western culture. Their historical underpinnings, native core values, and traditions exert a crucial influence on their mental well-being.
Sanchez and Gaw add that Filipino Americans underutilize existing mental health care services that are culturally, socially, and linguistically incompatible with their needs.

Along with stigma, the adherence of traditional practices and healing methods remains a formidable barrier to the appropriate provision of care.

The authors review factors influencing perceptions of mental health and illness, including religion, family, support systems, coping styles, and indigenous culture-bound traits. Recommendations for treatment consist of a structured, culturally sensitive, comprehensive approach that addresses the individual as well as the cultural milieu.

A deeper issue at hand, however, points to the effects of lower socioeconomic and employment status on Filipino Americans mental health. The prevalence of depression among Asian patients in primary care settings is estimated to be around 14 percent, with higher rates among Filipinos, compared with Japanese and Chinese, according to Sanchez and Gaw.

This may still be underestimated because of the cultural tendency of Filipinos to deny, somatize, and endure emotional problems. Depression manifests in a variety of ways, from the classical symptomatology of excessive grief to the phenomenologically incongruous smiling depression.

The 2004 Surgeon Generals report shows lower suicide rates among Filipinos (3.5 of 100,000) compared with those among whites (12.8 of 100,000) and other minorities. In 1993 the Pilipino Health Task Force concluded that Filipinos in San Francisco lacked health care access because of their low utilization rate.
Rosemarie Doria, 45, Rodolfos mother, is a case in point.

I cant still bear the embarrassment of letting my parents know that we are struggling. Parang nakakahiya, she said. Husband Rodolfo Sr. disclosed afterwards that Rosemarie is under medication for clinical depression and intermittently exhibits bothersome actuations.

The Dorias and California residents face a more depressing battle up ahead unless the new administration or Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger overhauls its current mental health care program.

Late last year, advocates for the mentally ill filed a lawsuit alleging that Schwarzenegger subverted the will of voters when he eliminated a $55-million program for the homeless mentally ill. The move was part of the $700 million worth of vetoes made in an effort to break a budget impasse in the state.

Although the budget cut was more geared towards the homeless, the case of the Dorias is not entirely stripped out of the situation. Fate forbids, they may end up squeezing their lean bodies in a nonprofit shelter. There are more Filipinospart of the more than two million in Californiawho are mired in a similar misery. Economic hardship is just one of the barriers that they are facing.

What needs to be done?

Francis Sanchez and Albert Gaw conclude: Increased priority to resources and a strategically coordinated network of social services that recognizes specific sociopolitical, economic, and cultural needs have to be in place when delivering mental health services to Filipino Americans. It is ideal to have such services within existing medical institutions and staffed by culturally sensitive medical, psychiatric, and social service personnel.

Psychiatrists need to embrace culture as a powerful factor in understanding the Filipino American experience. A culturally sensitive and imaginative approach to the individual should be undertaken.

Ideal solutions but are these realizable enough given current realities? Amidst the apathy, Rodolfo Doria, Sr.s words offer hope, Maybe the next U.S. president will help us. Otherwise, bahala na ang Diyos.

[For more of the Sanchez-Gaw study, http://ps.psychiatryonline.org/index.dtl or email francisgms@yahoo.com]

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