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Inaugural National Forum on Filipino-American Mental Health

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

Speakers at the inaugural National Forum on Filipino American Mental Health at the Philippine Embassy Chancery Annex on 20 October 2018: (L-R) Krystle Canare, President of the Philippine American Foundation for Charities; Dr. Janis Manalang, Psychologist & Clinical Director of the Key Center of Sterling Virginia; Dr. Rommel Rivera, President-Elect, Association of Philippine Physicians in America; CAPT Maria Fields, Senior Adviser for Child Well-being and Safety & Healthy Mind Initiative Representative of the Administration for Children & Families; Consul General Renato Pedro Villa, Philippine Embassy; CAPT Josef Rivero, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps; Dr. E.J.R. David, Professor and Author of Filipino-American Postcolonial Psychology: Oppression, Colonial Mentality, and Decolonization; Dr. Kevin Nadal, Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Graduate Center at the City University of New York; Ryann Tanap, Writer and Mental Health Advocate.

In October 20, 2018, the Philippine American Foundation for Charities (PAFC) and the Philippine Embassy co-hosted the inaugural National Forum on Filipino American Mental Health at the Philippine Chancery Annex Building.

The forum brought together renowned speakers from the Filipino American community composed of mental health advocates, behavioral health experts, community leaders, and U.S. government officials for an in-depth discussion on critical issues relating to Filipino American mental health.

“The Philippine Embassy is honored to be part of this momentous occasion of conducting the first ever forum which tackles mental health of Filipino-Americans. It is time we started looking at mental health the same way we do with physical health. Our society has long placed stigma on people who are experiencing mental health issues. Mental illness is far more common than we know. New research suggests that nearly everyone will develop a psychological disorder at some point in their life, but for most, it is temporary,” said Consul General Renato Pedro Villa in his welcome remarks.

“In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the landmark Mental Health Law (Republic Act 11036) on 21 June 2018, which sets the path for the government’s policy in integrating mental healthcare in the country’s public healthcare system,” Consul General Villa said as he also emphasized the Philippine government’s efforts on advocating mental healthcare in his statement.

Dr. E.J.R. David, Associate Professor at the University of Alaska, Anchorage and FYLPRO 2017 alumnus, gave the opening keynote that focused on S.I.G.E. - a set of guiding principles for making mental health work inclusive of, responsive to, and effective for the Fil-Am community. He said that Filipino-American mental health work must be strengths-informed and system-oriented, inclusive and intersectional, given away, and expansive in its epistemology.

The forum was divided into four (4) discussion series, each led by an expert speaker that focused on prevention efforts and experiences; identification, diagnosis and intervention; improving integration and coordination of care for Filipino Americans with mental disorders; and increasing prevention, assessment, and treatment in emergency response settings. A breakout brainstorming session among the participants followed each of the discussions.

Dr. Rommel Rivera, Physician/Psychiatrist and President-elect of the Association of Philippine Physicians in America led the discussion series with his presentation entitled “Anong pakiramdam mo?” (how do you feel) that focused on Early Identification, Diagnosis, and Intervention of mental health disorders. He emphasized the science of mental illness: that mental illness is a brain disorder; that there are new tools that can show us the presence of brain changes long before symptoms emerge; and that early detection and early intervention will give us the best outcomes.

“Just having everyone’s work and expertise shared out in the room confirmed the need to raise mental health awareness in the Filipino American community. Some of the ideas that were discussed included creating PSAs for Filipinos and Filipino Americans to be aired on television or the Internet, as well as creating a directory of resources that include providers, research, and programming in different regions across the US. I look forward to continuing to elevate this important issue,” said Ryann Tanap, writer, mental health advocate and FYPLRO 2017 alumna who also co-moderated the forum with community stalwart Jon Melegrito.

Dr. Kevin Nadal, Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Graduate Center at the City University of New York, closed the program with a set of organizational, institutional, individual, and interpersonal recommendations that include supporting ethnic, queer, and gender studies; integrating social justice conversations; addressing microaggressions; being a part of study and service groups; sharing your work and advocacies to the public; and practicing self-care, among others.

“In the words of Dr. Kevin Nadal, ‘If there's not already a table, build your own’ Today, we brought together a table of passionate Filipino Americans - clinicians, parents, youth, students, teachers, federal employees, community leaders - to discuss key mental health issues impacting our community. These newly forged relationships and inspirational leaders give me hope that the conversation around mental health will continue and work will be done to improve the health and well-being of our fellow Filipino and Filipino Americans,” Philippine American Foundation for Charities President Krystle Canare said.

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