Language, cultural barriers pose a challenge for Nevada’s 988 system

By: - February 17, 2023 3:58 pm

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Nevada’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population has been one the fastest growing in Nevada for decades and stands at roughly 380,000, nearly 12% of the state’s population.

But there is no language or cultural competency training specific to the AAPI community in Nevada’s rollout of 988, the national hotline for mental health established last year. 

And that’s part of a larger language accessibility issue that Democratic Nevada Assemblywoman Angie Taylor pointed out this week during presentations on behavioral health and children’s mental health from state officials to the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee.

“The three-digit number sounds like it’s been really successful, but are there bilingual capabilities or other languages for those who may call” other than Spanish? Taylor asked in the meeting.

The answer was effectively no.

“Certainly we can always do better and need to do better,” Cody Phinney, the Deputy Administrator of the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health said at the meeting. 

The nonprofit Crisis Support Services of Nevada currently oversees the 988 hotline, and while staff receives cultural competency training in general and specifically for Indigenous people, LGBTQIA+, Hispanic, and people of color, there is no similar training  AAPI communities, said Rachelle Pellissier, the executive director of Crisis Support Services of Nevada. 

“We do not give cultural competency training specific to Korean, Japanese, or Tagalog,” she said in an email. “We do have an interpreter service that allows us to serve any language, though.” 

In Clark County, more than 10% of households have no one over the age of 14 who speaks only English or who speaks English “very well,” according to the Guinn Center’s 2020 Census in Nevada Snapshot.  While the second most widely spoken language, Spanish, is offered through the 988 system in Nevada, other languages are not. 

Of the 10 most commonly spoken languages other than English in Clark County, half of them are spoken by the AAPI community including Tagalog, Korean, and Chinese including Cantonese, Mandarin, and other languages, Japanese and Vietnamese. 

Serious mental illness, major depressive episodes, as well as suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts have all been on the rise within the AAPI community, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health. SAMSA data also indicates members of the AAPI community are three times less likely to seek mental health services than their white counterparts

Language is a contributing barrier, according to the national nonprofit organization Mental Health America. 

The AAPI population encompasses a wide range of cultures, languages, and histories which plays a role in the perception of mental and behavioral health, and few epidemiological studies on the mental health needs and attitudes have included AAPI people or people whose English is limited, according to Mental Health America. 

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Camalot Todd
Camalot Todd

An award-winning, investigative and enterprise reporter, Camalot Todd has over seven years experience in print, digital, radio and TV journalism.