Emil Guillermo: The coincidence of AANHPI Month and Mental Health Awareness Month
How are you feeling? No, honestly. Tell me.
By the end of this column, if you need it or want it, I’ll have some advice for you on how to feel better. You can also choose to ignore it.
But first, let’s think about Xuan-Kha Tran Pham, 49, of Fairfax, Virginia.
He needs it.
Pham is our reminder that not only is it Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s also National Mental Health Awareness Month.
And now we all should be very aware of the coincidence. Pham is the AAPI man in the news being held without bond before his first court appearance on criminal charges. He is accused of attacking a congressional district office in northern Virginia that resulted in two people injured.
The best thing you can say about any of this is that Pham is said to have used a metal baseball bat.
Had it been a gun, this would have been a far more serious incident than two people with minor injuries, treated and released.
It’s still serious enough, because it was clear from Pham’s background that he had some kind of mental illness, which appears never to have been adequately addressed.
Why? Good question.
Authorities are still searching for a motivation for what happened at the district office of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), even suggesting that this may be linked to the rise in political violence in America.
That’s important for sure.
But Pham’s case may simply be a matter of an AAPI man in need of mental health care and not being able to get what he needed when he needed it most.
Pham left plenty of bread crumbs to let us know his mental state.
In May 2022, Pham sued the CIA in federal court in a handwritten complaint. His allegations were based on his belief that the CIA was “wrongfully imprisoning” him “in a lower perspective” and “brutally torturing” him “with a degenerating disability consistently since 1988 till the present from the fourth dimension.”
Also last year, Pham had a run in with Fairfax County Police. He attempted to take a firearm from officers, who as a result sustained minor injuries. Charges were dropped in September when Pham was required to seek treatment, the Associated Press reported.
Was he better? Before the incident on Monday at the congressional district office, Pham was five miles away threatening at least two people in a northern Virginia residential neighborhood. A home camera system captured a man who looks like Pham with a metal baseball bat.
Pham’s father, Hy Pham, told the Washington Post that his son has suffered from schizophrenia since his late teens. But Xuan-Kha Tran Pham is 49 and no longer a teenager.
What sort of care has he had since his teens? What care has he had since his charges from last year were dropped?
Reports say his father was trying without success to get mental health care for his son, who had been off his meds the last three months.
Was it the expense of care?
Or could it be a language barrier in getting help? Too often, cultural differences are the obstacle in getting any kind of health care, not just mental health care.
Or is it a family barrier? The stigma of mental health is real.
Still, how many cries for help do we need to hear from Pham and his family before they get what they need in our mental health care system?
Instead, Pham has all the access he needs to the criminal justice system.
OUR UNIQUE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
I feel for Pham, mostly because in his family’s plight, all AAPIs can pick out something and see ourselves.
If you’re an immigrant or have immigrant parents, our origin stories alone can be indicative of a trauma few can relate to. Except other Asians.
And all that has an impact on our lives here in America, from how we are parented to how we deal with the “system” to get what we need to survive in this country.
There are some psychological issues that no one really wants to talk about. The feelings of general helplessness, inadequacy, self-doubt, and lack of self-worth. Imposter syndrome anyone?
Of course, we are all told we can overcome all of that simply by hard work. If you’re young, that means getting good grades and going to a good college and becoming a doctor. . . .
You know how the story goes.
But what does this have to do with mental health?
Everything if you aren’t able to handle the pressure.
But because mental health often comes with a stigma, no one wants to talk about it. It’s not good, right?
Not with family. We’re too busy keeping our head down, working hard, and ignoring all this mental health stuff. We survive and suffer quietly.
This is when we need to talk about it the most. Talk? We’re Asian. We don’t talk.
But maybe we should.
Mental health professionals are available. But I discovered something that may be worth doing.
I texted the Crisis Text Line at 741741 to find out what it offered.
It’s crisistextline.org, a global non-profit that provides free 24/7 counseling by text.
It’s not talk. It’s all text. And it’s not an AI chatbot, but a real person. (I’m trusting here. It could have been a bot, but I doubt it).
Approaching my writing deadline, I felt some anxiety and texted and got a person who texted back, “It sounds like you’re dealing with a lot right now. Tell me more?”
I asked if she were a real person.
“Yes, I 100 percent am,” she typed. “You’ll always be connected to a real person when you text in.”
So I texted that I was stressed out by all my deadlines.
She praised me for my self-awareness, but I texted her how I sometimes think it would be better if I weren’t so self-aware. I mean whatever I think I have is minor compared to others. Maybe it would be better if I just plowed through life. As long as I’m not a danger to anyone. Except myself.
And then she asked me the big question—if I was safe. And I said I was. I am only in danger of grammatical errors.
But I said I did like text because it was slow. Talking about things, I can sometimes be prone to blurt and be less thoughtful. In text, you have to type out your ills. I don’t expect an instant cure. It’s slow when you’re forced to think as you type. You carve out your feelings. And then you realize how things may not be as bad as you originally thought. In fact, not bad at all.
My texter provided me some resource links if I wanted to seek in-person help. And because I mentioned I meditate, she linked to some mindfulness exercises. (I attest that meditation has made me a lot less amok.)
I told her I found texting to be helpful and said I will tell my friends about it. It’s just texting to a trained mental health volunteer. Where’s the stigma?
It did help me feel a little bit better.
It might help you.
And then I thought of how just a little bit of help at the right time could have made all the difference for Xuan-Kha Tran Pham.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.