Overview of Depression and Suicide in the APA Community (Part 1)

I’d like to start off today by sharing a personal experience.  I spent one summer in China a couple years back.  I was staying at one of dorms at a university.  Thankfully, most of the students I befriended were able to speak English.  I definitely would not have been able to survive the summer because my Mandarin was terrible!  While some of the girls I met and I were walking through campus to go shopping, we passed by a large crowd of people.  It was by a laboratory building I often frequented to visit a friend.  It turns out that a student had jumped not too long ago.  The police/ambulance hadn’t even arrived yet.  A professor at the school told me that this kind of thing occurs frequently each year.

Depression and suicide is common among all races and genders and it is a serious problem.  However, I would like to observe why it is a prevalent problem among Asian-Americans.  This post is purely based on my experiences and thoughts and I am not an expert of any of this.

From the National Alliance of Mental Illness’s (NAMI) Fact Sheet on Asian American Women and Depression:

“In many Asian cultures, the stigma surrounding mental illness is so extreme that it is thought to reflect poorly on family lineage. It limits the education, prevention and treatment within the community and is further exacerbated by the stereotype of the ‘model minority.’ The stereotype of the highly successful, well-educated and upwardly mobile person can sometimes make it difficult for Asian women to accept their ‘flaws.’ They feel they must live up to high standards and succeed in all areas (e.g., doing well in school, helping to support the family; taking care of elderly family members and maintaining a job).” (emphasis added).

Mental illness and depression are frowned upon and viewed as a sign of weakness.  I believe that in some countries in Asia, there is no word for “depression” as well.  Cultural pressures create these types of problems.  The unwillingness to accept the existence of these types of problems exacerbate the problem.

  • Being the perfect daughter/son is almost expected in many families.  Parents battle others to win as the parent who has the better child.
  • While this might apply to many other countries as well, the Korean culture still has a “males are superior” type mentality and remains predominantly patriarchal. The women are expected to be submissive, domestic housewives, who constantly cook and clean, while the men “bring home to bacon”. This type of mentality creates pressure on both sexes.  This is also the reason why many Korean men are violent against women.
  • The girl who jumped from the building in China did so because she grew up being told that everything will always work out.  She was researching in the laboratory, working days and nights–even sleeping overnight in the lab. She was told that hard work will always lead to success. And when she didn’t get any success, she felt that she was doing something wrong. She felt like her life in the lab was pointless. She lost direction.

Whether it’s in Asia, the States, or anywhere else, one of the biggest reason young people commit suicide is due to the cultural pressure.

All Asians and Asian Americans need to be aware that this is a very common problem. Seeking help and treatment has proven to reduce the risk of suicide. There is no reason to be bound by cultural pressures.  The “model minority” stereotype, which also serves as a type of pressure, needs to be broken as well. There needs to be change one by one in order for a wave of change to occur. Moreover, the more information that is available, the less ignorant people will be about this issue.

For part 2 of our series on depression and suicide in the AAPI community, click over to Laura’s post here.

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