“Don’t be ashamed of your story”

Sang Pham, a clinical social worker at CHD’s Pine Street Behavioral Health Clinic, pointed to a sign in her office that sums up what Mental Health Awareness Month means to her. It reads, “Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.”

Indeed, mental health has long been a subject that many people are uncomfortable discussing, but by telling stories of overcoming hardships—including mental health issues—we can teach great life lessons to those who need support.

That process involves overcoming stigma about seeking help—something she’d like to see the Asian American community in our country accomplish. According to Mental Health America, Asian Americans are the least likely racial group in the United States to seek mental health services. “Gradually, they are opening up more,” said the native of Vietnam. “I have three Asian American clients, and although trust is important in therapy, sometimes they hesitate to say certain things.”

She believes that many in the Asian American population don’t like to talk about mental health conditions “because it is viewed as weakness, shameful, and that these issues should be kept private. Self-image is very important in Asian society.”

Pham earned her BA at American International College and she received the Fanny B. Kamberg Award for outstanding achievement in sociology, her major. While earning her MSW at Westfield State University, she was an intern at our Pine Street Clinic, where she has worked for the past seven years. Her favorite part of her job: “When clients tell me they feel great at the end of a session and can’t wait to see me next time,” she answered with a smile.

One of her biggest “wins” in her career so far was treating a man with schizophrenia. “When I did his intake, he couldn’t express himself, and now, three years later, he’s very fluent,” she said. “Because of his memory problems, he was disorganized, so he used to get frustrated.” Her solution: having him use an iPhone to form to-do lists and use the phone’s reminders and calendar apps instead of writing everything down on paper.

When the subject of Mental Health Awareness Month came up again, Pham said she was eternally grateful to her former clinical supervisor at Pine Street, Kate Moriarty, for emphasizing the importance of self-care. “I learned a lot from her, especially self-care,” she said. “If I can’t take care of myself, how can I guide my clients effectively? I learned to set boundaries to avoid burnout.”

Pham is “a bright and positive member of the Pine Street team,” according to Senior Program Director Katelyn Prendergast. ”She is always willing to help other staff, step in with support for clients,” especially when walk-in services are required, “and she will easily put a smile on your face. We are lucky to have Sang on the team.”