KC Family, Experts Changing the Narrative for Mental Health AAPI

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From an early age, Chi Nguyen was forced to put on a good show.

“I fled Vietnam when I was 18 months old,” Nguyen said.

According to Nguyen, she held her mother’s hand every step of the way.

“We left without my father because back then if you were fleeing Vietnam you had to pay to have people tell you how to escape,” Nguyen said. “And so we only had enough money for my mom and I to go. So my mom and I went when I was 18 months old and we came to the States, and my dad came a year and half later.”

Nguyen grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington DC. His family, like many Asian families, left their homeland to live the American dream.

“When you grow up, you know how much your mom and dad sacrificed to have you there,” Nguyen said. “And you certainly don’t want to disappoint them, because of all the things they went through to get you to America to have a better life.”

However, as a teenager, following traditions into a new world was quite black and white for Nguyen.

“There’s this other underlying factor of trying to be grateful that you’re here and not wanting to stir anything and just lay low,” she said. “It was a strict culture, so you weren’t allowed to do a lot of things outside of the house.”

Throughout her life, Nguyen has seen others around her do things she was not able to do.

“It was unfair growing up because I saw other kids being able to do whatever they wanted, and somehow not having to live with the expectation of being perfect, or getting grades. perfect, or getting into a very good school in their opinion,” Nguyên said.

This narrative that Nguyen explained is something that Southeast Asian therapist Sindhu Fedasuk says is difficult for many Asian children to grasp.

“There’s no reward for speaking your mind or being an individual because it’s a collectivist culture,” said Fedasuk, therapist at Opal KC, “If it’s good for a person, if it’s doesn’t benefit the whole community, it’s not worth it”. there’s never a validation element, so there’s not like a “Hey, you did well and here’s your validation.” So it’s hard to hold that. »

This pressure described by Fedsuk is one that Nguyen experienced to some degree.

“I have no problem talking to my parents, but it almost seems superficial,” Nguyen said. “As you know, are you okay? Are you feeding yourself? Do you need these things? What do you need for school? What can we do for you? But it wasn’t not the case, what makes you happy? What makes you sad?”

Fedsuk says that in Asian culture, like many immigrant families, you are taught to survive.

“It’s survival of the fittest, so there’s naturally a competition complex built into Asian culture,” Fedasuk said. “Well, I was taught to stifle my feelings and I was taught that my limitations or weaknesses were not to be expressed. So first you have to even overcome the feeling of being a failure on this, because for Asians to admit that you need help would be to admit that you need help with something.”

According to Fedasuk, this ideology can complicate the search for peace, when you are taught to show only your strength.

“I think the saddest thing is how to find a balance between being someone who can ask for help and someone who feels in competition with everyone, because asking for help would mean weakness, and staying in competition would mean strength,” says Fedasuk.

However, for Nguyen, it was a narrative she wanted to change for her eldest son Thomas Mancuso.

“No one I knew went to therapy, and if I was growing up and there were issues, it wasn’t really talked about,” Nguyen said. “As for being able to talk openly about things, I didn’t feel like it. It’s not like I didn’t feel loved or anything like that, but when I became a mom, especially with Thomas being my first, I realized it had to be talked about. He must be able to come out with his problems or his frustrations and this will only happen if he talks about it.

Nguyen felt therapy was a good idea at an early age for Thomas after his parents divorced and he moved from North Carolina to Kansas to pursue his dreams of playing football.

“It’s almost like a stress reliever whenever I needed it,” Thomas Mancuso said. “It makes me more comfortable in everyday life knowing that I have someone to talk to if I’m going through something.”

However, Thomas understood that to achieve his goal he had to be the best on and off the pitch.

“We all see it as negative and a bad thing, and that was my first reaction,” Mancuso said. factor in my life, it’s something that can help me become a better person.”

This space or realization of Mancuso is something Fedasuk says many Asian children and adults never get.

“You question yourself all the time. I would say anxiety is a major thing that I often see with my Asian clients,” Fedasuk said. “A lot of depression, because the bar is set so high and you’re almost ready to fail. What an emptiness to try, if you know you’re going to be doomed in the beginning, if the bar is too high or if it’s something out of your reach.”

Nguyen is now also putting his youngest son William into therapy, teaching his sons that it’s okay not to be well.

“If your tooth hurts, you go to a dentist who is a dental expert,” she said. “And I think for therapy, if something hurts your heart or your mind, you need to go to an expert and talk to them about it.”

Fedasuk says that for many, wanting or agreeing to go to therapy is not just a writing on the wall.

This is because according to American Psychological Association in 2015, only 5% of psychologists were Asian.

“Biopic or specially Asian people want an Asian supplier, because that’s a basic understanding, because we have the same unspoken lingo,” Fedasuk said. “I think people generally think they’re looking for an answer. So to go somewhere and get asked more questions and have to justify yourself, that doesn’t go down well. Like that adds to the stress that’s already pre-existing.

Now proud of the choice she made for her family, Nguyen wants to make a difference for her children and other Asians who view mental health as a taboo.

“We came to an agreement as a family, do you know is it a success if Thomas lands a pro contract? Or does he get a full scholarship to a D1 school?” Nguyen said. “No, it’s not success then, it’s success if Thomas knows he had a supportive family and wants him to he is making his dreams come true, and will do whatever it takes to help him achieve those dreams.”

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