Asian American young women and suicide

In Health, Monologue/Dialogue on April 11, 2009 at 4:37 pm

According to a 2007 CNN article by Elizabeth Cohen, Asian American (AA) women have the highest suicidal rates for females aged 15-24.

Below are several factors that Cohen discusses.  I added my own commentary when relevant.

1) AA immigrant parents set high academic and career expectations for their children + the “model minority” myth.

When I was little, my grandma and dad would often remind me how hard they worked so that my sisters and I could have an education and well-paying job.  One time I came home with a 99% score on a test.  Instead of saying “good job,” my dad asked, “What happened to the other 1%?”  My classmates also subscribed to the model minority myth, poking fun at me whenever I got less than a perfect score.  As a result, I always felt like I needed to succeed to make my parents happy and to avoid teasing at school.

2) AA parents are stricter with daughters than sons.

Growing up, sometimes I felt my parents were being overprotective.  I know it was because they cared about me, but I often suspect that they would have been more lenient if I were a boy.

3) In Asian cultures, one generally does not question one’s parents.  According to Cohen, this feeling of helplessness turns into depression for girls and rebellious behavior for boys.

When I was little, I assumed that whatever my parents said was to be obeyed.  I usually didn’t talk back, partially because I feared additional lecturing or punishment, and partially because I felt guilty after hearing about how comfortable my life was compared to previous generations.

4) AAs are a visible minority and may be dissatisfied with their physical appearance.

Growing up, I was one of the only Asian faces in my classes.  I hated looking different and used to be insecure about my height and eyes and hair color.

5) AA young women may inherit or mimic suicidal behavior from parents, especially their mothers.

I would like to add another factor:

6) Many AAs face pressure to maintain family honor and status.  This could explain why we may be reluctant to seek counseling or confide with friends about personal issues.  We may fear that others will find out about our dysfunctional families or shameful problems and we will lose credibility and respect in our communities’ eyes for not being “normal.”

Do you agree or disagree with Cohen’s analysis?  What other factors do you think contribute to depression and suicide in young AA women?

Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

— posted by Debbie Chong

  1. What about the normal ways we use language? In many Asian American families, it is normal to say pretty graphic things to young children or make ridiculous empty threats. It seems like Asian kids have to go through an additional developmental phase where they learn that their parents are being funny/ridiculous and not really threatening. Maybe there are a lot of young women who never successfully complete that transition in the United States.

    Another thing might be parental closeness. Sometimes respecting your parents means a lot of distance and distance means that you can’t really go to them with your problems. And if you can’t go to your parents with your problems, then who do you go to? Especially if there’s not a lot of other Asian kids around who might have similiar problems. You can’t go to people of other races because you’re a model minority and you’re not allowed to have problems. So what do you do, but cope alone? And of course, that might not turn out so well.

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