By Amy Geiszler-Jones
Ngoc Vuong knows the depths of despair caused by grief. But he also knows the impact of having a good support system.
Vuong, 18, developed severe depression after his mom died of a brain aneurysm in his sophomore year at Wichita South High School. Already very involved with extracurricular activities dealing with leadership and volunteerism, Vuong decided to help other teens who deal with mental health challenges. Not only did he start talking about his bout with grief and depression, but he worked with National Alliance on Mental Illness Wichita to start mental health awareness campaigns and wrote a grant to organize a community-wide initiative.
Started with a $1,000 grant from the Wichita Community Foundation, ICTeens in Mind is a student-led mental health support and advocacy group that is forming networks with schools, neighborhoods, nonprofit organizations and communities to create resources for teens with mental health conditions. In 2018, ICTeens in Mind was integrated into Partners for Wichita, a nonprofit whose purpose focuses on making Wichita a better, safer place for its citizens.
Growing up, Vuong listened to the stories his parents told him and his siblings about the hardships they endured as dissenters in Vietnam. His father fought against the North and ended up leaving his family and everything behind. His maternal grandfather was subjected to horrors in a “re-education camp,” while his wife and daughters tried to carry on until his release.
“They found solitude in Wichita,” said Vuong.
And he found strength, gratitude and drive in those stories – stories that showed hardships can be overcome. That’s why he started looking for opportunities to lead and make changes, he said, as early as middle school. It’s why he decided to do something about combating the stigma of depression.
Now a freshman at Wichita State University and considering a degree in psychology, Vuong also works at Partners in Wichita and continues to find ways to expand the reach of ICTeens in Mind.
“My goal is to encourage schools to be proactive in conversations with students and staff about mental health,” he said. He’s visiting area middle and high schools to talk to students and staff to get their input on creating programs focused on mental health, and he’s working on creating a countywide, student-led initiative.
The 2019 Everyday Heroes Award is sponsored by Envision