Family values make accessible mental health care a priority for scholarship student

Posted: Thu, 2nd May 2019 | Written by: Fizz Dakin

Watching her mum struggle with depression spurred Namy to study psychology at university. Now she is working to improve access to mental health care for Australia’s multicultural community.

Pannamy (Namy) Touch is currently completing an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a diploma of Spanish. She also volunteers weekly at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. The hard work and sacrifices that her mum made to provide for Namy’s schooling drives her to continue to achieve in her studies.

Family values make accessible mental health care a priority for scholarship student

Namy moved to Melbourne from Cambodia 8 years ago when she was about 14. She already had a head-start with her English skills thanks to her mother.

“My mum is a progressive woman who has big dreams for us, so she had enrolled us in English school back in Cambodia. She was too busy working and raising three children alone to take the class. Due to her lack of English, my mum couldn't find a job here that suited her ability. Even though she was a year 11 biology teacher in a prestigious public school back in Cambodia, she had to accept a job as a factory worker, which doesn't generate that much income. Although we were by no means poor, at times the lack of financial and social support was a bit much to deal with.”

Namy was inspired to undertake her degree after her first psychology subject in Year 11 opened her eyes to her mother’s mental health challenges.

“Mental health was not a thing that one discussed back in Cambodia, and those who tried to express it were often looked down upon for daring to share family issues with others. I was a child of divorce and my siblings and I were not much affected personally as our mum tried to shield us from it as much as possible. This meant that she was the one to take the brunt of it. So, it was no surprise that she started to develop health issues and depression.”

Through her psychology studies, Namy became increasingly aware that good mental health is crucial to everyday functioning. In fact, she says, it may well be more important than physical health in preventing many diseases, in addition to playing a role in recovery from disease and injury.

Unfortunately, due to her lack of English language skills, Namy’s mum couldn't get the help that she needed. “The lack of social support, financial strains and the language barrier meant that my mum had to suffer through it alone.”

Namy observed that although Australia is multicultural, our mental health sector hasn't quite caught up.

“My family and I have lived with the frustration of not being able to access adequate support and I could only imagine millions of others who must have this frustration too. So, in short: what inspired me to study psychology started out as a simple need to understand my mum's change in mood and has now evolved into a desire to understand the complexity of mental health and the potential solutions.”

Throughout these challenges, Namy has remained dedicated to pursuing her studies. She received her first Western Chances scholarship in 2013 when she was in Year 10. Nominated by the careers teacher for talent in mathematics and a natural aptitude for the sciences, she was awarded funds for textbooks, a calculator, internet and stationery. Namy has had her scholarship renewed ever since and was awarded her 6th scholarship in 2018. 

“When I was offered the Western Chances scholarship in 2013, I was ecstatic and not to mention a bit teary-eyed, as it gave that much needed support to focus on my education. I was able to become many things that I never thought that I could be (such as a school captain, when I was once terrified of public speaking!). The scholarship relieved some of the burden from my mum and it has been continuing to do so since that day. For that, I am deeply and eternally grateful for Western Chances.”

With the added support of a scholarship, Namy has had capacity to volunteer at a hospital. It has given Namy a new perspective about people and healthcare.

“I get to see how something as simple as a smiling face can completely change someone's day and I learned how the lack of beds can determine if someone could receive much needed medical attention. I have worked with wonderful people who made me realise the value of kindness, humour and positivity. Every story I heard taught me the meaning of resilience and this has inspired me to become more positive, empathetic and to do more as a fellow human being.”

Always on the path to better understanding of others, Namy is also learning Spanish.

“What I love the most about learning a new language is the ability it gives me to communicate with others whom I otherwise couldn't. I have learned some of the most important things in life through my interactions with people. In my logic then, the more languages I know the better I can communicate with people and thus I maximise my chances of learning about the world around me through them.”

It's often said that the best way to learn a language is to fully immerse yourself in the culture of that language. Even though she’d learned English since she was 5, Namy only mastered spoken English after arriving in Australia. She’s is planning a study tour of Spain this January to work on her Spanish too.

Beyond university, Namy plans to follow her passion of working with children and youth, as well as the desire to create more accessible mental health services to better suit people from diverse cultures.

“My immediate plan after graduation is to work in child protection before pursuing a masters or a PhD. Perhaps, after I might become a clinical child-psychologist. 

“Although, with all that said I also plan to learn more languages to further diversify my worldview and hopefully this will give me some ideas on which career direction to take. The greatest thing about being in Australia is that it has opened up a whole lot of avenues for me and suddenly I find myself with all these options and possibilities that make me giddy even thinking about it!”

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