According to the World Health Organization, one person globally dies by suicide every 40 seconds. When we look into that number further, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Asian Americans aged 15-34. The statistics show us that we need to be more vocal in discussing suicide and mental health, especially, especially among Asian Americans.
The narrative, across various cultures, tells us that suicide is selfish. People may question how anyone could do that to their friends and family. They may say how the individual had “so much going for them.” The existing stigma surrounding suicide gets compounded with the influence of shame that underlies some Asian American cultures, leaving individuals to suffer in silence. In a culture that encourages and even expects high academic and professional achievement, the word “suicide” can become suppressed and swept under the rug. Mental health concerns are silenced isolating those who are suffering further into their pain. This is the narrative we must rewrite when understanding how suicide and mental health impact Asian Americans.
Rewriting the narrative
Suicide is not selfish. Suicide is tragic. And suicide is preventable. It is often the result of or is comorbid with mental illness. It is the unfortunate and fatal end of overwhelming mental pain and suffering. A pain that is so overwhelming and all-consuming that suicide is not perceived to be a choice, but the solution. This decision is often symptomatic of the altered state of mind of an individual experiencing suicidal ideation.
Although we may never understand the suicidal mind, we can learn to understand that it is a reality for many people around the world. In reframing the narrative of suicide, we can not only begin to adopt a posture of compassion and empathy, but also create a space for those suffering to ask and receive the help that they need.
What can you do?
- If you know a loved one or friend that is suffering from suicidal ideation and have voiced their thoughts and feelings: listen. Many genuinely believe that they are a burden to those around them. In speaking up, they have demonstrated courage. Listen.
- If your loved one or friend has an appointment with a psychiatrist and has asked for your support, offer to go with them! Mental illness is real, and it is isolating, debilitating, and scary. Show them that you are in this with them.
- Language: use the term “died by suicide” rather than “committed suicide” when discussing the passing of a loved one. The word “commit” historically was used to denote a crime or sin. In choosing to use the language of “died by suicide,” you acknowledge that the person passed due to an illness, terminology used similarly as to when an individual may die due to a physical health condition. Mental illness IS illness.
- Educate yourself on mental illness and suicide. There are many resources that an individual can access! People often think that the Suicide Hotline is only for those experiencing suicidal ideation. However, the Suicide Hotline is for everyone. If you know someone who has verbalized that he or she is experiencing suicidal ideation and do not know what to do, call the hotline; it is a resource for you too.
- If you notice changes in behavior and may suspect that a friend or loved one may have a mental illness or suicidal ideation, ask! Individuals often think that asking someone if he or she is considering suicide will encourage it. Often individuals will feel relief. To have someone see, recognize, and respond is a powerful gesture of care and compassion.
Suicide is not selfish, and it is 100% preventable. Let’s lean in and listen.
- Suicide Among Asian Americans
- WHO Suicide Data
- National Alliance on Mental Health
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline
- To Write Love on Her Arms
Kathryn Lee (she/her) is a NY based mental health counselor, who currently works with families and youth demonstrating antisocial behaviors. As a second-generation Korean American woman, Kathryn is passionate about discussing issues surrounding identity, belonging, and relationships in addition to mental health and social justice. She was trained at Teachers College, Columbia University and at the Addiction Institute, Mt. Sinai West.
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