UNICEF Youth Advocate Tran Quynh Giang is working to end mental health stigma and discrimination.
Content warning: The following story contains personal details of mental health issues. Please proceed with caution if you are struggling.
When Tran Quynh Giang was 13, the world seemed to turn upside down.
"Even now, I find it hard to fully grasp what, how, when and why," the Vietnamese teenager wrote in a heartfelt letter to their younger self. "I wanted to write you this letter because lately I've been thinking about what life would have been if I knew what I know now."
A powerful first-person account of a deepening mental health crisis
First came the sudden deaths of a parent and grandparent, followed by teenage struggles with gender identity, body shaming and an eating disorder.
Little by little, Giang's childhood optimism crumbled, giving way to loneliness and grief.
Be courageous and don't ever give up on hope.
In powerful detail, Giang's letter recounts mounting panic attacks, ostracism by classmates, a growing sense of dread.
As Giang's mental health deteriorated, teachers looked on in alarm. But without training, school staff were ill equipped to offer any meaningful assistance.
Eventually, Giang recalls, a kind friend listened nonjudgementally, opening the door to a way out of despair. "You realized you were not alone at all," Giang writes.
Working toward a future when mental health challenges are treated just like any other physical challenge
Today, Giang, who uses they/them pronouns, is a UNICEF Youth Advocate whose personal struggle informs their commitment to creating a more equitable and inclusive future, where children and adolescents facing mental health challenges will have easy access to the services they need.
Teachers, Giang says, can be invaluable first responders when they are trained to support young people and connect them with the right resources.
"I want to see schools where mental health issues are looked at just as any other physical challenges," says Giang. "And there will no longer be barriers, stigma or discrimination to stop us."
Protecting the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents is a key part of UNICEF's mission. Working with partners, UNICEF supports quality mental health programs in 130 countries, including psychosocial support, counseling, training for teachers and caregivers, community engagement and other initiatives designed to help young people thrive.
The MINDS Act will support investment in mental health services through U.S. foreign assistance programming
Mental health is a global issue, yet stigma and underfunding have limited services and support, particularly in low-income countries.
The Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings (MINDS) Act (H.R.3988/S.2015) would support the integration of mental health services in U.S. foreign assistance programming, with a particular focus on children and their families.