Japanese American doctor honored for AAPI mental health advocacy

A prominent Denver-based Japanese American doctor has been chosen to be honored with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Equity for her outstanding advocacy of mental health issues pertaining to the AAPI community.

Dr. DJ Ida, executive director of the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, will receive the award from The Asian & Pacific Islander Caucus for Public Health on Oct. 31, the Asian American Press (AAP) reports.

The award recognizes individuals or teams who have successfully implemented systems change approaches to reduce health disparities with the past two years.

Ida, a third-generation Japanese American, has always been aware of the importance of social equality, as her family was forced to resettle in Colorado from California as a direct result of Executive Order 9066, which saw over 100,000 Japanese Americans put into concentration camps in the Western United States during World War II.

According to AAP, Ida has devoted her entire career to improving the quality of life for AAPI community members by recognizing that mental health is essential to achieving health equity. Not only did she establish the Asian American Educational Opportunity Program nearly 40 years ago, she also helped start the Asian Pacific Development Center, a special mental health facility in Denver.

Furthermore, Ida helped create numerous programs for community members to learn how to make healthy decisions or their bodies, minds and spirit, such as the “Achieving Whole Health,” a training program designed for all three.

The committee that named Ida included a prestigious panel of health equity leaders, including John Auerbach of the Center for Disease Control, who considered criteria such as contributions toward health equity and use of a systems change approach to address disparities.

Ida will be honored with the award and a $3,000 unrestricted prize at the 144th American Public Health Association Convention.