Despite enduring high mental health burden, Pacific Islanders have received minimal research or clinical attention in the US. Due to our poor understanding of the issues surrounding Pacific Islander mental health, engaging Pacific Islanders in mental health services has been very difficult. For example, a Los Angeles County (LAC) Department of Mental Health program targeting Samoans only managed to enroll 4 patients in 2 years even using Samoan community providers. A pilot study of these 11 community providers by the Principal Investigator identified several factors including mental health stigma, poor mental health literacy, and a lack of culturally responsive services as contributing to poor Samoan mental health service engagement. This study draws from the Cultural Determinants of Help-Seeking Model to address this research and clinical gap by conducting focus groups and citizens' panels to obtain public input from 50 Samoans in LAC and 50 Marshallese in Arkansas on their unique mental health perspectives, needs, barriers and facilitators to services, and strategies to overcome these barriers. The citizens' panels will bring together lay public members, present multiple viewpoints about various mental health issues, and have members deliberate and reach a collective decision on these issues. All group materials will be translated into English, Samoan, and Marshallese, and interpreters will be present during the sessions. The groups will be audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed by the Research Team for themes. Numerical data will also be collected about levels of public awareness about mental illness, mental health stigma, acculturation, and underutilization of mental health services from 100 Samoan and 100 Marshallese community members to better understand these possible service barriers. Analyzed data will be used to develop a set of intervention components that are likely to increase service engagement among both Samoans and Marshallese. These components will provide the foundation for a universal service engagement intervention for Pacific Islanders that will be developed and tested in future research. Study findings will be disseminated via presentations and peer-reviewed manuscripts to the Pacific Islander, public mental health, and academic communities.

Public Health Relevance

Mental illness has rarely been scientifically studied in Pacific Islanders who are at increased risk for mental illness and are hard to engage in mental health services. As a result, providers and public mental health systems have struggled to connect with and provide quality care to this underserved racial population. This collaborative community-academic study will use multiple research methods (i.e., community surveys, focus groups, and citizens' panels) to: (1) investigate mental illness from Pacific Islander community members' perspectives, and (2) involve Pacific Islander community members in identifying effective, culturally responsive approaches for engaging Pacific Islanders in mental health services.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Mental Health Services Research Committee (SERV)
Program Officer
Juliano-Bult, Denise M
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California Riverside
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code