Hyphen Magazine has done it again. Proving that they are willing to spark discussion about critical issues within the Asian American community, last week, they unveiled a new regular column: Ask A Model Minority Suicide.
The first installment of this column is powerful. The writer talks about her brush with depression and suicide, and the journey back from the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. The column, which will appear monthly, is a “safe space” to talk issues of depression and suicide for Asian Americans, and to hopefully help others who find themselves standing at the edge of a precipice.
Suicide rates for young Asian American women are the highest amongst all women, and almost equally as high for elderly Asian American men. In addition, Asian American suicide and depression is particularly prevalent on college campuses, where existing resources appear to be inadequate to prevent the deaths of young Asian Americans.
When I was in college, there were several Asian American students who took their lives over the course of my undergraduate career. I think they totalled more than half of all suicides on-campus. One, in particular, struck home: a young Engineering student, who was a close friend and lab partner of one of my best friends, committed suicide at the end of our sophomore year. It was shocking, jarring, and seemingly inexplicable. My best friend blamed himself; it was us who tried (and often failed) to console him.
In “Ask a Model Minority Suicide” the writer worries that her column will promote stereotypes of Asian Americans. There’s some element of that; indeed, when I write about Asian American mental health concerns in the wake of a high-profile case, I’m accused of perpetuating stereotypes against other Asian Americans. But the bottom line is this: simply talking about a real, and damaging, health disparity in our community does not, in and of itself, a stereotype make. At no point do we, or should we, generalize that all Asian Americans are depressed or suicidal, or that all immigrant parents hard-asses.
But, neither should we remain afraid to talk about the real, demonstrable, and woefully undertreated mental health issues that remain too prevalent in our community, and that have lead to tragic suicide or homicide. Our worries of being stereotyped are based on the same cultural stigmas that result in patients being too embarassed to find or receive treatment: we are too willing to sweep these issues under the rug for fear that “crazy is catching” than to help the suffering within our community. Our community can withstand being seen as fallible, but we cannot withstand ignoring the major causes of death in our community because we are afraid we will “lose face” in the public eye as a result.
So, kudos to the writer of “Ask a Model Minority Suicide” for taking one of the first, brave steps towards shining a light on mental health, depression, and suicide in our community. Hopefully, the dialogue sparked by the AAMMS column will help even just one other Asian American person contemplating suicide to, like AAMMS’ writer, step back from the edge.