Honoring AANHPI Heritage Month with a Focus on Mental Health Awareness

May 30, 2023

Wrapping up AANHPI Heritage Month at NOVA, the office of DEI held an event focusing on caring for your mental health as an Asian American Pacific Islander. May is also Mental Health Month. DEI's guest speaker Sandhya Oaks spoke at the AANHPI Intercultural Learning Center earlier this month about something she is most passionate about—caring for our mental health. "I am not an expert. I don't claim to be an expert, but I am human, and I'm on this mental health journey just like all of us," she explained to her audience. She is fiercely committed to providing hope and healing to others. 


Sandhya was born in India and adopted by a white family living in the Midwest when she was just a year old. But hers was not a story of living happily ever after. Instead, it was a story of abuse by her new family as she grew up. "The family that adopted me ended up pretty severely neglecting and abusing me here in America. I did not know what to do with that, and so I was in survival mode. I was in coping mode. I would go to school. I would try to be on my best behavior. I was up against a lot of harm just in my home. Whether it was name calling or physical abuse or emotional abuse, it was horrifying," she said. Sandhya saw herself as being resilient, and she always just kept pushing forward. "But little did I know that this wasn't actually resilience. This was a tenacious characteristic inside of me that was trying to survive," she said. 

After graduating high school, she attended a community college she felt was a safe place to begin exploring adulthood. But that's when she discovered that the past abuses and constantly living in survival mode had caught up to her. "I needed help, and I needed care. But how does a girl do that when she's 18, and her family has abandoned her yet again? So, here's what has happened in the last couple of years. I've gone on to study resilience. And I have a certificate in resilient leadership. Part of my process of studying resilience was coming up with my own definition of resilience." 

Sandhya noted that resilience is not just about getting back up after you've been knocked down and continuing to push harder and faster. "It's about pausing and giving yourself time to rest, nourishment and care," she said. Also, it is learning to say no, no matter how difficult that may seem.  

"Pausing reminds us that we're humans and we can't do it all. And from one Asian American to another, may you find courage to step into the freedom to pause and give yourself space. Know that you weren't made to do it all. You weren't made to carry it all. And remember when you come back from that pause, you can have clear headspace and groundedness way more than if you keep pushing."  

She left her audience with the feeling that we are on the same journey, trying to understand our own mental health and that we should look out for our own mental health and that of others, too. 

Sandhya co-founded the Adoption Triad, a group that provides community and resources to those connected to adoption and foster care. Sandhya holds a Narrative-Focused Trauma Care certificate from The Allender Center and a certificate in Resilient Leadership from the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. She recently completed her Trauma Care Group Training Certificate through The Art of Living Counseling Center. Sandhya is a ministry leader, story coach and spiritual director.  

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