Living for Mental Health Awareness!
It’s Time to Normalize the Elephant!

By Emily Wu Truong (吳怡萱)

The subject of mental health is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Many often choose not to seek help in fear of becoming marginalized and ostracized by friends and family. As a result, many suffer in silence because they were taught to “save face” to not bring shame to themselves and the family. In contrast, many people know me as a strong advocate for mental health awareness. I choose not to remain silent about mental health issues as a societal & personal matter.

As an outspoken individual, I first came out to share my personal story at a legislative briefing on Asian American mental health in July 2013. I stated, “I will not end my life because I have a story to share. The more we talk about mental health, the more we will alleviate the stigma. There is no shame.” To add to that, the more we talk about mental health, the more we will be able to save lives. Every day, individuals filled with hopelessness are committing suicide due to the lack of understanding and support about mental health issues in our communities. Instead of developing the patience and compassion to accept those who have mental illness, people can sometimes react in fear and ignorance. That ignorance is often what causes the stigma in our society and prevent individuals from getting the help they really need.

However, through civic engagement, I have dedicated my efforts to alleviating that stigma by being the change I want to see in the world –beginning the dialogue by telling my own story of depression.

For me, I was my own worst enemy, and as a result, I suffered from low self-esteem. I had no idea how to love myself or recognize my true worth as an individual because I was so hard on myself. I would lay in bed with unforgiving voices and simultaneously feeling extremely depressed. I criticized myself for having no direction in life, and in my miserable state, I wished the world would just end. While my life mission to seek long-lasting happiness seemed endless, not knowing how to find the answers to life did not help. I turned to dating and friendships, but often found myself dealing with some that would never work out. Then as I matured, I realized that I was only valuing myself based on how much I felt others’ valued me. That was a serious problem because I never learned how to value me, which then led me to moments of me wanting to commit suicide. During college, when a boy whom I loved broke up with me, I devalued myself. My heart was crushed, and I longed for the days he would love me back and hold me in his arms again. That day never came, and I wanted to end my life by choking myself. At the same time though, I knew in my heart that ending my life was not the solution. I told a family member about my suicidal thoughts, and she responded saying that she would feel distraught if I ended my life. From then on, I knew I had a reason to live, but I still struggled with defining my overall life purpose.

Growing up, I realized that I hardly ever complimented myself and always needed that external validation from others. However, it was not until my breakdowns last summer in 2013, that I had breakthrough moments of epiphany, like a spiritual awakening of my true identity.

This awakening began in July 2013 when I came to a state of mind where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I set myself on a quest to learn how to deactivate my emotional triggers. Once I made that decision, a mixture of painful repressed memories came rushing into my conscientiousness. Emotionally, it was rather overwhelming that I left my brain feeling mentally exhausted. I knew I needed help, and so I decided to seek initial help from the mental health system, but that was a huge struggle in and of itself.

Without anyone to provide an orientation to the mental health system, trying to navigate it was extremely frustrating. During my three-day mental breakdown in August, I developed insomnia for my first time, and I tried to help myself by making over sixty phone calls to different places that could provide referrals for local mental health services. Each place I called left me with an unsettling feeling because I felt like each phone call I made, the person on the other end would say, “Sorry, we can’t help you. Here’s another number,” and the more I heard this upsetting statement, the more depressed I became. Although I felt like the mental health system failed me, it forced me to find ways of helping myself.

Eventually, I found hope when I learned about the world of support groups. The groups I attended were from Recovery International, National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI), and the Asian Coalition. As I attended these group meetings, I found myself feeling relieved and far from isolation because I saw that I was not alone. These groups became safe places for me where I could openly share my experiences of depression without shame. Group members commended me for having the courage to share. We learned techniques to become more cognizant of our own thoughts, feelings, and bodily reactions in response to circumstances that were out of my control. I became more self-aware of my daily thought patterns and began to develop more attitudes of gratitude. I made friends with the other group members, volunteered with them, and became the newly elected Chair of the Asian Coalition! Overall, the more I got involved, the more I found hope in recovery because I saw that I was not alone in my struggles. I realized that helplessness is not hopelessness, and that emotional healing is possible; and I hope others can learn too that with help, there is hope.

Emily in Green

Emily Wu Truong (吳怡萱) is a Taiwanese American Community Activist for Mental Health Awareness and Motivational Speaker from the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles, CA. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology & Social Behavior from the University of California, Irvine. Driven by her passion to impact society on a greater scale, Emily has been featured in LA County Department of Mental Health’s newest anti-stigma English & Mandarin public service announcements (PSAs) for its social inclusion campaign in collaboration with the California Mental Health Movement, Each Mind Matters. Emily has led talks and discussions on “Addressing the Generation Disconnect,” “Believing in Me: My Journey to Finding My Self-Worth,” and Coping with Feelings of Inadequacy & Rejection.” She has been a guest for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Mental Health Matters Radio Show. In addition, Emily was interviewed by the World Journal/Chinese Daily News in November 2014, where the article reached almost 47,000 individuals worldwide. As the newly elected Chair of the Asian Coalition working closely with the LA County Department of Mental Health, she hopes to inspire and bring more awareness to mental health issues that are often difficult for society to address today.