Dahae Hwang, MS
Prospective student of WesternU and
Family Nurse Practitioner student, Samuel Merritt University
“Snap out of it! You should be grateful. There are hundreds of other students who want to be in your position!” he yelled. I still remember when I failed one of my nursing school exams. I built up the courage to visit my professor’s office hours. I opened up about my experience with severe depression and anxiety. However, I was very shocked to hear this from my professor, who worked as a nurse for many years and at the time was an educator teaching nursing students. I chose nursing as my profession because I believe in the core values of nursing: humility, empathy, and providing holistic care — where physical, emotional, and psychological health are interconnected. Unfortunately, students and professionals of the healthcare field face much stigma and lack of support for those struggling with their mental health.
The first step to mitigating the stigma around mental health is to talk about it. As I shared my stories of mental health with others, I realized that there are many people in similar situations. Like many others, I was scared to be vulnerable with others, and I still am. However, it is essential that students talk to someone they trust about their struggles so that we can receive support. Knowing when to share vulnerabilities can open doors for others to share their stories and can help create meaningful relationships. Honest discussions about mental health will ultimately benefit students, motivating us to advocate and support mental health initiatives at our schools to create resources that can help and empower other students.
This semester, I am taking a community health course, where I talk to seniors in the community and connect them to a variety of resources. Most of my patients share their struggles with mental health, COVID-19, loneliness, and food insecurities. I do my best to advocate for my patients’ needs and connect them to resources that can improve their health outcomes. As advocates for our community, it is essential that we don’t dismiss our patients’ feelings and experiences, as they are unique to each person. It is my hope that in the future, health professional schools will begin to incorporate mental health topics into the curriculum and start having discussions about the importance of taking care of one’s mental health — perhaps by advocating for practices like meditation, self-care, and self-compassion. Practices like these will not only help decrease burnout among health professionals, but also teach us how to provide compassionate and humanistic care to our patients. Embedding concepts of wellness into the curriculum of health professionals has the potential to create a ripple effect that can touch the lives of larger society by way of our patients and their families.
Growing up, my family and I never talked about our feelings, and I had to learn to suppress my emotions. I was against receiving mental health counseling because of the stigma around mental health, especially in Asian communities. My family was not ready to talk about their mental health because they did not want to bring shame to the family. What makes mental health even more difficult to discuss and confront is the fact that not everyone is aware of what depression actually entails, whether it be due to lack of education, cultural differences, etc. As a family nurse practitioner, my goal is to promote not only physical health, but also mental health, since the mind-body connection is imperative to our overall well-being.
My call to action for Western University of Health Sciences is to destigmatize mental health by training health professionals, educators, staff, and students to actively work on their biases and learn to be compassionate towards themselves and others. It is important that healthcare professionals create a nonjudgmental, safe, and inclusive space for others to feel comfortable talking about their mental health and their struggles. Furthermore, we need to approach others with open ears and open arms so that they can feel welcome and feel that their voices and experiences matter. We can start building strong communities one step at a time as we prioritize our mental health, and we can help others do the same.
I am grateful to say that I completed my semester successfully, and I am currently in good academic standing. However, there are many students who do not have the same resources or support. Some people may assume that only certain people struggle with mental health. However, mental health does not discriminate. Hence, it is vital that health professional schools create protocols to support students and faculty: for example, facilitating remediation meetings for students who are academically struggling, allocating more funding for mental health professionals of color, and taking appropriate action when students report about their experiences with professors. My ultimate goal is that no one goes through the same challenges that I had experienced in my mental health journey, especially not alone.
I chose WesternU’s Humanism magazine to share my story because my school does not have a magazine where students can express their creativity. More importantly, I wanted to give back to this community. When I was applying to graduate schools, I had some questions about the program, so I reached out to faculty members at WesternU. I was grateful to receive valuable information about the program and advice regarding my career path. I also shadowed a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, and I gained new insights about the profession. Furthermore, when I was exploring different career paths, I attended multiple events at WesternU, such as Pre-Dental day, WesternU Preview day, and volunteered at a pre-physician assistant conference. Therefore, I wanted to pay it forward to this community and inspire others through my story.