AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week, the Austin City Council approved an agreement between the city and the Northwest Austin Universal Health Clinic to provide mental health services for the Asian-Pacific Islander community.
The agreement consists of a $100,000 grant for the first 13 months followed by two 12-month extension options — each $100,000 — for a $300,000 agreement in total.
The clinic will use the money to hire a social worker, yoga instructor and expand services to better serve those in need of help.
“There is a very rich denial of mental health needs in the Asian American community,” said Vince Cobalis, member and former chair of the Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission. “People don’t recognize that this is something that can actually be treated — people just say that’s the way they are.”
While the Asian American-Pacific Islander community in Travis County only accounts for about 8% of the population, Cobalis said the percentage of those experiencing a behavioral health issue is high. The latest data from an Asian American Quality of Life report shows 44% of the community face mental distress — more than double the percentage of U.S. adults nationwide.
Cobalis said COVID-19 may be making the problem worse.
“Right now, we have a lot of racism going on with the labeling of COVID-19 as the China virus,” he explained.
Despite the high levels of stress, the report found the use of mental health services is “relatively low,” and states many of those within the community rely on religious leaders or their family doctor for mental support. Those at the Northwest Austin Universal Health Clinic, which serves a big part of Austin’s Asian community, experience the connection firsthand.
“It’s really a conversation about what you’re dealing with, why did you go to the doctor’s office when referred, so it turns into sort of a therapeutic almost, I call it, non-traditional counseling and it depends on the connection (the patient) has with staff,” said Dr. Sanjna Malpani, the medical director at the clinic.
Young Women’s Christian Association also got a grant for $50,000.