Guest post by: Nealie Tan Ngo
When I first read Grace Chiang’s New York Times article, “Healing the Whole Family”, I was struck by how much I saw myself and my family reflected in her words. It was comforting—validating, even—to read about her feelings of anxiety, despair, and loneliness while constantly chasing after her parents’ approval as a first-generation Asian American. It felt like she was saying, “I understand what you’ve been through. I’ve been there.” However, what interested me the most was her discussion of intergenerational trauma (also referred to as trans- or multigenerational trauma), what part it may play in altering knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, and how her parents slowly began to work towards breaking the cycle of trauma. I read it as, “It can get better.”
I met Grace in my second year of medical school. I had just published my first comic, a piece titled “Mentalization” that depicted a conversation about depression and mental health between a Chinese mother and a Chinese-American daughter. It was the first comic in a future series explaining psychiatry and psychology definitions for Yale Compassionate Home, Action Together (CHATogether), a research group founded by Dr. Eunice Yuen, MD, PhD and dedicated to AAPI mental wellness at the Yale School of Medicine.
I was encouraged by comments saying how people wished they had seen something like this—or had a resource like this—while growing up. Even my mother texted me, curious about not only the art, but also the conversation happening within the art. If art could provide a rare opportunity for my mother and I to talk about mental health, could it do that for others too? Not long after I shared my comic in a mutual Facebook group, Grace messaged me to check out the post before mine—which, serendipitously, was her New York Times article. We realized we shared a lot of things in common, the most salient being that we wanted to improve parent-child communication and relationships, especially in AAPI families. With Grace’s words, my art, and Dr. Yuen’s clinical expertise as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, we all decided to take on the project of translating Grace’s story into a graphic novel.
We decided to use this opportunity of retelling Grace’s story to address some of the questions and comments she received on her original article. Frequently asked questions included how her parents—especially her mom—started on the path to change (no spoilers here, so check out Chapters 5 and 6 to find out!). Dr. Yuen and I worked together to add a chapter of “Teaching Points” focusing on education about topics discussed in the story, such as intergenerational trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), as well as teaching communication techniques and action steps for both parents and children. Our hope for this graphic novel is that it can help those struggling with these difficult, distressing, and often taboo topics. We wanted to create a resource for those to turn to if they ever need to hear the words, “We understand what you’ve been through. We’ve been there. It can get better.”
About the Graphic Novel: Healing the Whole Family is a graphic novel about intergenerational trauma and mental health in an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) family. It was created by Nealie Ngo, Grace Chiang, and Dr. Eunice Yuen, MD, PhD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Medicine. The graphic novel describes one girl’s struggle with her mental health and her family who, in the beginning, do not acknowledge mental health or illness. The story follows her as she struggles to understand her family’s dynamics and how intergenerational trauma within her family plays a large role. If you are interested in reading the entire graphic novel, please check out our website, Instagram (@htwfgraphicnovel), and Facebook (@htwfgraphicnovel). We love receiving feedback, so feel free to message and comment your thoughts and reflections as you read along!
About the Guest Author: Nealie Tan Ngo graduated from Yale in 2018 with a B.A. in the History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health. She is an upcoming fourth-year medical student at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences and is currently on a gap year to pursue a Masters of Public Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. At Columbia, she is curating her own degree to focus on Health Communications and Graphic Medicine. She hopes to specialize in Psychiatry, with specific interests in child and adolescent psychiatry, cultural psychiatry, and college mental health. If you are interested in following her work, please check out her website, Instagram (@artbynealie), and Twitter (@artbynealie). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.