Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! It’s Time to Normalize the Elephant!

By Emily Wu Truong

The subject of mental health is like the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, and that is how it seems in my local community. Many individuals choose not to seek help in fear of becoming marginalized and shunned by friends and family. Many choose to suffer in silence because they were taught to “save face” over “airing their dirty laundry” to anyone, or else they would bring shame to themselves and the family. On the contrary, many people know me as a strong advocate for mental health awareness because I choose to not remain silent about mental health issues. So let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we?

My name is Emily Wu Truong (吳怡萱), and I am a mental health client. As an outspoken individual, I first came out to share my mental health story at a legislative briefing in July 2013. I stated, “I will not end my life because I have a story to share. The more we talk openly about mental health issues, the more we will alleviate the stigma. There is no shame. There is no shame.” I was compelled to make this statement because many who need help often choose to suffer in silence. As President Obama stated at the National Convention on Mental Health in June 2013, “Too many Americans who struggle with mental illness suffer in silence rather than seek help.”

Because of this silence, I became determined to start a grassroots campaign to bring awareness of mental health issues in my community. Since July 2013, I have taken on a proactive role in my community to find ways to openly discuss community mental health issues, and share my personal recovery story. I have dedicated countless hours volunteering for the Asian Coalition of the LA County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH), National Alliance on Mental Illness, San Gabriel Valley, and participating in numerous mental health committee meetings, conferences, and trainings sponsored by LACDMH, Pacific Clinics, and California Institute of Mental Health (CiMH).

Now we are in the month of May where we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Taiwanese American Heritage Week, and also Mental Health Awareness Month! I only discovered that May was also Mental Health Awareness Month within this last year! In addition, I found out that May 10th was proclaimed Asian Pacific American Mental Health Day in Austin, Texas and San Francisco, CA, and I soon hope that the City of Los Angeles can proclaim May 10th as Asian Pacific American Mental Health Day as well!

So why are matters of mental health such a concern to me? The statistics can clearly explain it! According to a report by the Asian American Psychological Association, they reported some disturbing statistics about Asian Americans and suicide.

  • Suicide was the 8th leading cause of death for Asian Americans, whereas it was the 11th leading cause of death for all racial groups combined.
  • Suicide was the second leading cause of death for Asian Americans aged 15 – 34, which is consistent with the national data (the second leading cause for 15-24 year-olds and the third leading cause for 25-34 year-olds).
  • Among all Asian Americans, those aged 20 – 24 had the highest suicide rate (12.44 per 100,000).
  • Among females from all racial backgrounds between the ages of 65 and 84, Asian Americans had the highest suicide rate.

As alarming these numbers are, I could have contributed to these statistics, but I’m glad I didn’t. From firsthand experience, I know how it feels to be depressed without knowing how to help yourself. So when I see others in emotional pain, all I really want to do is reach out to that individual and ask him/her how she’s doing. I dislike having to see people suffering in silence, not feeling they have a sense of purpose in their life. Unfortunately though, our culture doesn’t give us permission to express how we are really feeling inside. We’re not taught how to openly communicate and express our emotions in a candid way.

Instead, we’re being taught from a young age to compete with our classmates for the highest grades, salaries, positions, and we have lost sight of what’s truly important in life – and I believe that’s COMMUNITY, LOVE, & SUPPORT. That is what’s missing in our society’s education today. We need to teach our younger generation the skills to develop their emotional intelligence, effective communication, and coping skills. When I interviewed Dr. Eliza Noh, Cal State Fullerton Associate Professor specializing in Asian American suicidology, she reported that having a strong support network was a common theme among her interviews with Asian American women who had attempted suicide. A fiction novelist William Gibson would completely agree with Dr. Noh. Gibson said, “Before you diagnose yourself with low self-esteem or depression, make sure you’re not surrounded by assholes.” (Hope you got a LOL out of that!)

As you can probably tell by now, I enjoy quotes, and the ones that have helped me the most in my mental health recovery have been these three…

With the help of positive quotes, letting go of perfectionism, developing unconditional love and forgiveness towards myself and others, that is where my healing and inner peace started to begin. Where there is internal healing, there is mental liberation and freedom.

These are topics that I will be privileged to speak about at the next conference for the Innovations Conference of the LACDMH’s LA County Client Coalition (LACCC) on June 23rd at the California Endowment Center. There I will be speaking about my journey to finding my self-worth, and I hope you can join me! For further information & the registration form to attend, go to LACCC’s website! And on the day of the event, don’t be surprised if you see me wearing lime green! That is the ribbon color for mental health awareness!

If you’d like to stay updated with the positive quotes I share, my Mental Health advocacy work, community mental health events, and my future speaking engagements, please check out my self-managed websites here!


Emily Wu Truong (吳怡萱) is a Taiwanese American Community Activist for Mental Health Awareness in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County. Driven by her passion to impact society on a greater scale, Emily’s speaking career as a motivational speaker is underway. As an active member and volunteer for the Asian Coalition of the LA County Department of Mental Health & NAMI, San Gabriel Valley, she hopes to inspire and bring more awareness to mental health issues that are often stigmatized and misunderstood in society today.

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