My name is Nancy Nguyen and I come from a Vietnamese immigrant family. I grew up in a town called Perris in southern California. Currently, I am studying integrative biology and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Ultimately, my goal is to attend medical school and become a physician who serves low-income communities such as my own. However, prior to medical school, I plan to immerse myself in policy work to educate myself on how our upstream care affects our downstream care in the United States. Coming to Berkeley has been an eye-opening experience. The community in Berkeley really works towards advocating for all issues and spreading awareness throughout the community which is so different from the communities I’ve seen in southern California. This inspired me to do more on my end. Currently, I am in a research lab studying mental health in minority communities and working with counties to provide better resources for these families. Throughout this experience, I have learned how the healthcare system in the United States does not provide enough resources for low-income communities. As a result, I want to learn more about the healthcare system within the United States and the policies that control the system in order to better provide for all communities in the country. I hope to take my experiences and knowledge pertaining to the healthcare system to advocate and implement changes that will benefit all communities.
Mental health struggles are very prevalent in my life. I think that it is especially apparent because of the cultural and language barrier between generations within my family. As a result, the new generation of Vietnamese-American kids cannot communicate with our Vietnamese elders.
Personally, I dealt with much anxiety throughout high school. I am a very organized person and need to have my life constantly planned out. The uncertainty of not knowing what I wanted to do or envision in my future leaves me with no structure and stability in my life. That being said, I really had no clue what I wanted to pursue in college. Once my junior year of high school rolled around I began having a lot of anxiety and panic attacks. I did not know where I wanted to go for college or what I wanted to pursue. My solution was to take rigorous courses and excel in my studies so that if I happen to realize where or what I wanted to study, my academics wouldn’t hold me back. However, this backfired on me and I ended up being so overwhelmed with my schoolwork and extracurricular. Things that I used to enjoy such as learning and dancing started feeling like a burden. I never had time for my family and much less for myself. Every day just felt like a constant cycle of waking up, going to school, going to meetings, going to dance practice, doing homework, going to sleep, and repeating. At some point, I was so overwhelmed I just stopped going to school as a whole. The anxiety and panic attacks I would get from simply being around people or going to school were not worth it for me. I ended up accumulating so many truancies that the school had to speak to my parents. However, my parents didn’t understand what anxiety and panic attacks were so I just had to work through my problems and pick myself back up again in order to stop them from worrying about me. Once my senior year of high school came, I was able to find myself again and learned how to take care of myself.
During my freshman year of college, one of my siblings got diagnosed with depression. This was such an eye-opening experience for me. Dealing with my own mental health was one thing, but taking care of someone with depression is a whole other story. When they got diagnosed, my parents couldn’t fathom that their own child had depression and just rejected the whole situation. My sibling had no support at home, so I brought them up to Berkeley. They stayed with me for my whole first semester at Berkeley. I tried to find ways to talk to them, take care of them, and communicate with them. It was hard and quite the learning process. However, after a while, my parents opened up to the situation and agreed to let my sibling talk to a therapist and get the aid they needed.
I was able to overcome the challenges of mental health by being really proactive in self-care and reaching out to family and friends. At first, I never talked to anyone because I felt like they didn’t understand my situation. However, as time passed, I really tried to reach back out to my family and circle of friends. I think that slowly working my way back into the social scene really helped. Just a simple small conversation, and asking people how they are made my day better. In terms of self-care, I started to wear makeup. Many of my family thought I started wearing makeup because of insecurities. In reality, it was my best effort to take care of myself. Instead of having a constant cycle of sleep, work, obligations, and sleep, I was able to incorporate one aspect of self-care into my day.
In terms of mental health within my family, I worked to create a more safe and more open space for all of my cousins. After I was able to cope more with my anxiety, I noticed that none of my family members ever spoke about their mental health yet are always stressed about school. I started by creating a safe space for my siblings to talk about their mental health. This allowed me to learn much more about what my siblings were going through and the pressures they felt pertaining to academics and extracurriculars. My extended family, they weren’t really open to the topic at first. Mental health is such a taboo thing to talk about in Asian culture, so I was not surprised that there wasn’t much going on. Eventually, my cousins began sharing more about their mental health and the struggles they were going through. This really allowed everyone within the family to know when to provide support and when to allow the individual to have some alone time.
Recently, a close family member passed away and it hit everyone in my family really hard. I think that it made the concept of “death” very real for everyone. My siblings and cousins were having a hard time coping but having the group chat as a safe space for them to share their thoughts provided them with some support and relief. Additionally, I made sure that some of them took time off of work and school. Sure life goes on no matter what mental health situation you’re going through, but how can you do your best if your family and community don’t feel mentally stable? Overall, creating an open and safe space for speaking about mental health situations has helped my family and me a lot.
Overcoming mental health struggles allowed me to create a supportive community of friends and family. Once I was able to deal with my anxiety, I started to appreciate all the little things in life such as spending time with my family, visiting family, fun car rides with my friends, playing sports, dancing, etc. Additionally, I was able to become comfortable in my own presence. I no longer hate being alone or being around people. I came to appreciate both. This is such a significant thing for me because I used to get anxiety from both being alone and being around people. Being able to be comfortable and at peace in every situation and environment has been such a huge success for me. Additionally, helping my sibling fight their depression is something I hold very dear to my heart. I spent my freshman year of college witnessing, anxiety attacks to suicidal episodes. I was so scared I was going to lose them to depression. Every adult figure in my life I talked to gave me the same advice which did nothing for my siblings. Eventually, I realized that the best I could do was be there for them and support them through everything that they are experiencing. So that’s what I did. The whole process tested my patience and anxiety but in the end, it was worth it. My sibling returned home, much happier, and began seeing a therapist. I hold this situation very dear to my heart because there were so many times I was scared of losing my family member to depression, but we were able to get through it together.
Now my siblings and I also talk to each other about how we feel and all the stressors in our lives. This has allowed us to grow very close and be comfortable with each other. My siblings now have open conversations with everyone else in their lives as well. Overall, overcoming mental health struggles has been a successful thing for me because it encouraged me to be more open with everyone around me and shared my story in hopes of sparking mental health awareness in everyone in my community.