May 3: The Overlooked Battle Against Depression and Suicide Among SE Asian Americans | #APAHM2015 #ReappropriateRevisited

Bhutanese American Tara Gurung and her husband. Tara's father, Ram Gurung, counseled fellow refugees from committing suicide. However, after moving to the United States with his wife and two adult daughters, Ram Gurung committed suicide last year at the age of 73. (Photo credit: Ryan Lessard, NHPR)
Bhutanese American Tara Gurung and her husband. Tara’s father, Ram Gurung, counseled fellow refugees from committing suicide. However, after moving to the United States with his wife and two adult daughters, Ram Gurung committed suicide last year at the age of 73. (Photo credit: Ryan Lessard, NHPR)

For this year’s AAPI Heritage Month, I will take each day to pull one of my favourite posts or pieces from the archives highlighting some aspect of AAPI history and heritage, and add to it a short commentary and reflection. I invite you to check back every day for this #ReappropriateRevisited month-long feature!

Yesterday, I revisited one of my most popular listicles regarding mental health and mental illness within the AAPI community (Mental Health Awareness Week: Top 10 Myths about Asian Americans and Mental Health). This listcle reflects how most of us popularly conceptualize the issue of AAPI mental health: through statistics about high rates of depression and suicide among women and on college campuses. Studies clearly support a focus on subpopulations of AAPI women and youth as particularly at-risk with regard to unaddressed mental illness. However, our persistent framing of the AAPI mental health issue only through these two lenses ignores two other particularly vulnerable AAPI populations: Southeast Asian American refugees and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders.

I remember attending an AAPI conference early in my career as an activist and blogger (which conference it was has long since left my memory) wherein I was first introduced to the need to disaggregate epidemiological data along ethnic lines to reveal ethnicity-specific disparities that specifically impact Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At the time, all data for AAPI were lumped together, and the relatively small proportion of Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders within our community masked these patterns. At the time of the conference, disaggregated data were rare: now, studies have confirmed alarming public health issues for Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Only when I started writing on the topic of mental health — and therefore read a number of primary source material — did I learn about the scope of this issue.

With regard to depression and suicide, a shockingly high number of Southeast Asian American refugees live with symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Rates of suicide ideation and attempts are significantly higher for Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — particularly among youth and when compounded with queer identities — compared to the average rate for Asian Americans or the national average as a whole.

Yet, when we talk about AAPI mental health, we rarely ever include in our conversations meaningful discussion about Southeast Asian Americans or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders. Why is that? Is there a certain amount of reinforced privilege in focusing our conversation on AAPI mental health entirely to the exclusion of our Southeast Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander brethren?

Continue reading “May 3: The Overlooked Battle Against Depression and Suicide Among SE Asian Americans | #APAHM2015 #ReappropriateRevisited”

May 2: 10 Myths (and Facts) About #AAPI Mental Health | #APAHM2015 #ReappropriateRevisited

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For this year’s AAPI Heritage Month, I will take each day to pull one of my favourite posts or pieces from the archives highlighting some aspect of AAPI history and heritage, and add to it a short commentary and reflection. I invite you to check back every day for this #ReappropriateRevisited month-long feature!

May is AAPI History and Heritage Month, but it is also national Mental Health Awareness Month.

Mental health is a critical issue for AAPIs. In many studies, AAPIs — young men, women, seniors, and college students — are more likely to experience depression and anxiety-related symptoms than people of other races. Among certain segments of the population, mental health and suicide rates are higher — in some cases significantly higher — than the national average.

Yet, within our community, mental health issues rarely receive attention. Stigmas that either silence conversation about mental health, or alternatively that spread misinformation about mental illness, abound within the AAPI community. AAPI who are fighting mental health issues are treated with shame and suspicion, and therefore rates of reporting mental health concerns are particularly low for our community.

I am particularly impassioned about AAPI mental health. I believe that our reluctance to address this highly prevalent health concern is literally hurting (and even sadly, in some cases, killing) our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters. When we are unwilling to have the uncomfortable, difficult, and emotionally draining conversations about mental health awareness and education that our community desperately needs, our complacence makes us complicit in a deeply wounding silence.

Every story of an AAPI suicide is, for me, a heart-breakingly preventable loss that results in part from our unwillingness to politically prioritize this issue within the AAPI community.

Continue reading “May 2: 10 Myths (and Facts) About #AAPI Mental Health | #APAHM2015 #ReappropriateRevisited”

May 10 is #AAPIMentalHealth Awareness Day: Let’s talk about on-campus depression & suicide | #APAHM2014

Jiwon Lee was a 29-year-old dental student who took her own life last month.
Jiwon Lee was a 29-year-old dental student who took her own life last month.

Jiwon Lee was a fourth-year dental student at Columbia University and president of Columbia’s American Student Dental Association. This past April, she took her life after leaving a note in her room apologizing for “not living up to expectations”. Jiwon was 29.

Kevin Lee (no relation to Jiwon) was a sophomore at Boston University. Originally from Brooklyn, he planned to major in biomedical engineering. This past April, Kevin also took his own life in his college dorm room. Kevin was 19.

Andrew Sun was also a sophomore, but he was studying economics at Harvard University. A transplant from New Jersey, Sun was a “bright student”, a “humble listener”, and an active participant in the campus’ inter-faith Harvard College Faith in Action student group. This past April, just days prior to Lee’s death, Sun took his own life. Andrew was 20.

In the span of just a few weeks and within 250 miles of each other, three unrelated Asian American college students committed suicide. And while we know their names, they are only 3 of the estimated nearly 150 college-aged Asian American students who will die by suicide this year: Asian Americans aged 20-24 have the highest suicide rate of all Asian Americans at 12.4 per 100,000, and have the highest rate of suicidal thoughts among all college-aged students. This rate also appears to be nearly 1.5x higher than the national suicide rate — 7 out of 100,000 — among college-aged students.

May 10 is AAPI Mental Health Awareness Day, and today, I am remembering Jiwon Lee, Kevin Lee,  and Andrew Sun; and I want to take a minute to talk about all the Asian American college students who battle depression and other mental health disorders right now.

Continue reading “May 10 is #AAPIMentalHealth Awareness Day: Let’s talk about on-campus depression & suicide | #APAHM2014”