Trauma at Root of Mental Health Issues Among Vietnamese
Linguistic isolation, lack of access to mental health services and cultural taboos are roadblocks for Vietnamese-Americans and other Southeast Asian refugees in Orange County who still suffer from the trauma of war. February 2013.
At the heart of Westminster, Garden Grove and parts of Santa Ana lies a well-known but rarely admitted secret: trauma and its enduring legacy.
Nearly 40 years after the fall of Saigon in 1975, Orange County’s older Vietnamese immigrants — and by extension their families — continue to grapple with the horrors of war, communist “reeducation,” escape by boat and refugee camps. At least half a million refugees arrived in the U.S. in the decades after the war’s end.
As a result, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is widespread among the county’s Vietnamese population, say mental health experts, who link trauma to depression and other problems such as domestic abuse and gambling addiction.
“Post traumatic stress is very prevalent in the community. My dad has it, I had it, I was a refugee,” said Paul Hoang, a licensed clinical social worker and the co-host of a Vietnamese community television program. He also champions mental health for Vietnamese people through his nonprofit organization, Viet-Care, in Garden Grove.
But PTSD is especially difficult to treat among the less acculturated older generation, Hoang said, because of reluctance to discuss traumatic experiences as well as attitudes about mental illness.
“There are some people who still believe that mental illness doesn’t exist. Other groups believe that mental illness is like a curse from whoever you were in the past,” said Hoang,
Another barrier to getting help has been the shortage of Vietnamese-speaking social workers and psychologists. The Orange County Vietnamese population numbers 180,000, and three-fourths of Vietnamese elders speak little or no English. Though the situation is slowly improving, only a handful of psychiatrists in Orange County are fully fluent in Vietnamese.
Further, Vietnamese people in Orange County are more likely than other Asians and ethnic groups to lack mental health coverage, according to a 2010 report, “A Look at Health in Orange County’s Vietnamese Community.”