Reaching Underserved Ethnic/Language Populations

Santiago Cuba with his father Juan Cuba, Mental Health Educator for Cultura y Bienestar. Photo by Juan Cuba.

Using Mental Health Services Act funding, Alameda County is working to meet people where they are at and incorporate cultural and ethnic specific values into its Prevention and Early Intervention programs.

Many immigrants and refugees in Alameda County are limited in English, which makes mental health outreach activities challenging. “If we don’t think ‘outside the box’ on how to reach and engage these unserved and underserved communities in a culturally sensitive manner, many individuals and families could be left in the dark,” said Tracy Hazelton, Prevention Manager for Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services. “What might start as stress or anxiety may develop into a more serious mental health concern.” Two of the Underserved Ethnic/Language Populations programs are described here.

Reaching the Spanish-Speaking Community

Cultura y Bienestar (Culture and Wellness) is an innovative mental health program delivering prevention and early intervention to Alameda County’s Latino communities.

“We educate people in order to lower the stereotypes about mental health,” said Claudia Pineda, a Cultura y Bienestar (CyB) program assistant. “Many people we serve come to us with accumulated trauma. We connect with them because we speak their language and honor their traditions and culture.”

Community members face poverty, isolation, lack of employment and don’t know how to connect with resources. One success story is how a single parent, who struggles with depression, was given tools through CyB one-on-one meetings. Now, she works full time.

At CyB’s teen program, youth talk about bullying, violence and how to handle stress and depression. “It has helped me know what to observe and how to approach people so they don’t feel judged or scolded when talking about mental health,” said Paula Cerna, a teen program graduate. “I tell people, ‘You don’t have to turn to alcohol or drugs. There’s help out there.’ ”

CyB holds drumming circles. They were created with the input of the community’s elders for whom drumming circles carry longstanding importance. Researchers have found that drumming helps people with a wide range of mental health concerns, including stress, anxiety and depression.
Cutura y Bienestar staff enjoying a drumming circle. Photo by Tue Nam Ton.

“Drumming reconnects people to their healing roots and empowers them,” said Patricia Royball, CyB Supervisor.

Health educator Juan Cuba leads a weekly men’s support group, where Latino men can talk about jealousy, self-esteem and what it means to be a man. “We practice how to work out conflicts without violence,” Cuba said.

Cultura y Bienestar is a project of La Clínica de la Raza in collaboration with La Familia Counseling Service in Hayward and Livermore and Tiburcio Vásquez Health Center.
Hayward 510-300-3136
Oakland 510-535-8400
Livermore 510-300-3136
Union City 510-471-5880

Reaching Asians and Pacific Islanders

Asian Pacific Islander (API) Connections is a Prevention and Early Intervention project designed to improve access to services and reduce stereotypes and fears attached to mental health among API communities.

Asian Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS) focuses on more established Asian communities such as the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino.

“It’s all about giving each individual hope, dignity and resources to lead healthy, empowering and contributing lives,” says Pysay Phinith, API Connections assistant director. “People don’t come to us and say ‘I am dealing with depression, anxiety or trauma.’ They say ‘My children are not doing well. Or, I just lost my job and I am afraid I will not be able to pay my rent.’ “

Phinith explained that many community members, when they hear “mental health” are going to walk out the door. So, ACMHS wellness coordinators work one-on-one with each person, assisting with their immediate needs such as obtaining housing, unemployment benefits and domestic violence services. Trust and respect builds and they begin to talk more about their mental health concerns. People attending an art class for Chinese seniors or a choir for Koreans led by a guitarist, for instance, find it easier to open up about their feelings.

For information, contact
Esther Chow,

ACMHS art group prevents seniors from becoming isolated. Photo by Tue Nam Ton.
Community Health for Asian Americans (CHAA) works with immigrant and refugee newcomer Asian and Pacific Islander communities, ncluding those from Burma, Mongolia, Nepal, Thailand, Tibet, Tonga and others. These are individuals who have been unserved with little or no dedicated mental health services.

“We are not traditional mental health providers, but offer social and emotional support to newcomers,” said Amy Lam, Health Equity Program Director. “We build resilient individuals, families and communities.”

CHAA wellness coordinators work with people who are limited in English, may be isolated and are experiencing early signs of mental health conditions.

Tsering Yangkey is a CHAA Community Wellness Coordinator who works with Tibetans. “There is a lot of sadness for the life they have left behind, stress around money and that the culture is so different,” Yangkey said. Tibetans may complain that they are not sleeping well or have a stomach ache, Yangkey said. Both of these are cultural signs of distress.
Tsering Yangkey guiding the opening ceremony for an API workshop. Photo by Sean Kirkpatrick.

She teaches Tibetan women basic English and how to cope with daily activities, like using public transportation. As she develops bonds with each person, they open up more about their mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety.

Addressing mental health conditions, while also helping to improve daily living, greatly enhances the wellness and quality of life of many of Alameda County’s historically unserved and underserved ethnic populations, preventing the need for more intensive and costly care.

For information, contact Amy Lam


7 Programs for Underserved and Ethnic Language Populations

Afghan Coalition serving the Afghan community.

Asian Community Mental Health Services serving communities, such as the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian and other communities.

Community Health for Asian Americans serving newcomer and refugee API communities, including people from Bhutan, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Thailand, Tibet, Tonga and others.

Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants serving the Cambodian community.

La Clínica de La Raza serving the Latino community.

Native American Health Center serving the Native communities.

Portia Bell Hume Center serving the South Asian communities, including people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal.


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