Why We Need to Talk About Suicide in the Asian American Community
Updated: Jan 13
**Trigger Warning: Suicide** Please do not read if you are triggered by this topic.
Most people have thought of suicide at least once in their lives. This can be a fleeting thought. These thoughts can happen at any point in your life. Thoughts of suicide do not just randomly appear. They appear as a response to feeling overwhelmed, so we need to normalize talking about suicide. If we become more transparent and supportive of one another in our mental health struggles, the rates of suicide will likely decrease.
What is Suicide?
The National Institute of Mental Health (2021) defines suicide as “self-directed injurious behavior with the intent to die as a result of the behavior.” Suicidal ideations refer to the thoughts or consideration of suicide for oneself.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Minority Health (2019), they reported suicide as the leading cause of death for Asian Americans from ages 15-24 in 2017. They also noted Asian American female high schoolers are 20% more likely to attempt suicide compared to their white peers in 2017.
Why do Asian Americans Consider Suicide?
There is no straight-forward answer to this question. It is multi-faceted, and everyone’s story/reason is different. But, there are some commonalities to be considered.
Feeling like an outsider
As immigrants or descents of immigrants, there is a sense of not belonging to the majority group in the U.S. This feeling of not belonging can be because Asian Americans tend to be a combination of cultures.
Pressure to achieve
Most people know of the high achievement pressures for certain Asian groups. Achievements often become linked to their self-worth. Therefore, it can be devastating to have a below average academic performance for some individuals.
Saving face/putting on a facade
This is pretending to be okay to the people around you when you are internally feeling like your life is falling apart. In many cases of suicide, most people describe the person who suicided as "happy" as they did not have a clue of their internal distress.
Not being taught how to deal with emotions
This is true for most cultures. We are simply not taught about emotions or how to deal with them. When we get overwhelmed, we try to survive while being ill-equipped to do so.
History of mental illness
Due to mental health stigma, many Asian Americans have undiagnosed mental health conditions, including various traumas.
Additionally, mental health struggles may be kept to themselves or within their immediate families. This can be especially true for immigrant/first-generation Asian Americans.
While suicide is definitely not an easy topic to address, it is an extremely important topic to discuss. Not addressing it does not make it go away. By bringing forth someone's struggles and talking about it, we can potentially save lives. Everyone may experience struggle at different points in their life, but due to genetics and circumstances, some people are more predisposed toward suicide.
We need to do what we can do to help those struggling, including yourselves. It can be sending a text to a loved one that you are needing some extra support or offering them your support to remind them they are loved. Sometimes, we need to be reminded that we are loved, so we don’t feel alone or isolated in our struggles.
If You Are Struggling With Suicidal Thoughts
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please know you are not alone. It’s a sign you are not doing okay. There are multiple free resources you can use below:
Peer-Run Warm Line (Free Emotional Support)
“The Peer-Run Warm Line (855-845-7415) is a non-emergency resource for anyone in California seeking emotional support. They provide assistance via phone and webchat to anyone in need. Callers can share their challenges with relationships, anxiety, depression, finances, and drug use.” This is to prevent crises and are available 24/7.
For more information: https://www.mentalhealthsf.org/peer-run-warmline/
Online Chat option available through their website
Suicide Help Lines (Free Crisis Support):
“The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis. If you need help, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
You will be routed to the closest possible crisis center in your area. With over 120 crisis centers across the country, their mission is to provide immediate assistance to anyone seeking mental health services. Call for yourself, or someone you care about. Your call is free and confidential.”
For more information: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Crisis Text Line
“Text CONNECT to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis. Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis, connecting people in crisis to trained Crisis Counselors.”
For more information: https://www.crisistextline.org/text-us/
You can also message them on Facebook through their site.
Crisis Support Services of Alameda County
24-Hour Crisis Line 1-800-309-2131
For more information: https://www.crisissupport.org/programs/crisis-line/
If you are in severe distress, please call 911 or go to the nearest ER.
In addition to the resources above, we recommend seeking professional mental health treatment for people struggling with suicidal thoughts. In particular, a licensed mental health provider since they are trained to help you. If you are unclear on where/how to start, please take a look at the “New to Therapy” blog to help you get started. It may be scary to reach out for help, but your overall well-being is important and reaching out for support can be life-changing.
“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the Astonishing Light of your own Being!” By Hafiz of Shiraz
“There’s going to be very painful moments in your life that will change your entire world in a matter of minutes. These moments will change YOU. Let them make you stronger, smarter, and kinder. But don’t you go and become someone that you’re not. Cry. Scream if you have to.” By Erin Van Vuren
Stay tuned. The next topic is "Am I Depressed?"
National Institute of Mental Health. (2021, January). Suicide. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Minority Health. (2019, September 25). Mental and Behavioral Health - Asian Americans. https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=54
Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.
Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.