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NIH awards pilot-project grant to benefit Vietnamese American seniors

Dr. Yuying Tsong
Dr. Yuying Tsong

Human Services professor Yuying Tsong has built an impressive career shining a light on ethnic minority issues. She’s led research on the plight of unaccompanied Asian minors sent to study in the U.S. and has co-authored papers on the coping strategies of African American sexual assault survivors.

Today, she’s set out to create the first-ever mental health assessment tool designed specifically for Vietnamese American seniors.

The assistant professor received a $30,000 grant from the UCLA/CDU Resource Center for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR) Center for Health Improvement of Minority Elderly (CHIME), funded by the National Institute of Health/National Institute of Aging (NIH/NIA). The grant will finance a pilot study aimed at assessing how well Vietnamese American seniors understand mental health issues, and how cultural stigmas affect their willingness to seek help. Tsong’s pioneering work will lead to the development of the first culturally sensitive measurement tool – in Vietnamese – for use by future practitioners assessing the mental health of elderly Vietnamese Americans. Her research also lays the foundation for a broader, NIH-funded study of Asian American seniors’ mental health.

Tsong’s research will focus on Vietnamese American seniors in Orange County. A largely refugee population, many Vietnamese American seniors suffer from depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Their English is often limited, which significantly reduces their access to mental health services.

Seniors in Tsong’s study will be interviewed in Vietnamese.

“Minority populations are significantly and disproportionally affected by health and mental health challenges. And health issues don’t just affect individuals, they affect entire families. This project provides the groundwork to develop a large-scale grant proposal to help the Asian American community,” said Tsong.

The American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry estimates that 20% of people age 55 and older experience depression or other forms of mental illness. Seniors from underserved communities are particularly affected. As a group, Asian Americans aren’t likely to use mental health services, and Vietnamese seniors are more likely to suffer from mental illness than other elderly Asians.

The mission of UCLA/CDU RCMAR/CHIME is to reduce health disparities among minority seniors by training and mentoring researchers whose ethnic heritage reflects the communities they study. RCMAR/CHIME grant recipients are paired with mentors, attend seminars on new research methodologies, and present updates throughout the course of their projects. More information can be found on UCLA/CDU RCMAR/CHIME’s site.

Professor Yuying Tsong received her PhD in counseling psychology from USC in 2004. She served as a clinical faculty member/research methodologist at Pepperdine University for four years before joining Cal State Fullerton in 2012. In 2014, Tsong received the Emerging Professional Contributions to Service Award from the American Psychological Association’s Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race. The honor is given to "an individual who has made outstanding contributions in the promotion of ethnic minority issues within 10 years of graduation."