From 2003 to 2015, 76 teens died by suicide in my hometown of San Jose, California. During the same time, Palo Alto’s youth suicide rate was 14.1 per 100,00 compared to the nation’s average rate of 11.9. From 2013 to 2015, there were a total of 61 suicides in Santa Clara County. In March of 2015, I attempted to commit suicide. I was then placed in a 72 hour hold at a children’s psychiatric hospital and following my discharge, placed in an intensive outpatient program.
Growing up in the Bay Area meant growing up with the pressure of being accepted into a top tier UC or better. Growing up in the Bay Area with a dense population of East Asian immigrants meant brushing mental health issues under the rug. Students of color are more often than not silenced by their respective cultures and societies when it comes to mental health. In Southeast Asian cultures, mental illnesses are regarded as “made up” or seen as signs of weakness. Many of these cultures value endurance and perseverance, and in this idealization, asking for help is unheard of. Personal feelings and familial disputes stay behind locked doors. In the juxtaposition of being an Asian American, valuing community over the individual versus the self over society, navigating mental health is a maze.
I faced a lot of backlash from my community when I spoke out about my suicide attempt and hospitalization. I received even more backlash when I opened up about living in an abusive household. I was hit with the most backlash when I published an article identifying my father as a rapist. Unpacking the stigma of mental health was two-fold for me; there was the general population’s perception of mental health (which is already problematic on its own), and then there was the “Brown” perception - the one that says “Log kya kahenge?”
Discussion is the only way to overcome these stigmas. Our discourse shapes our reality. The way we talk and think affect the way we act. Growing up in an environment that teaches you to be quiet and hide your feelings and never ask for help creates students who feel ashamed for being depressed or anxious, and possibly not even allowing themselves to acknowledge that they feel this way. Similarly, being surrounded by a community that is open and empathetic and shares and invites discussion, encourages students to be involved and participate and eventually share their own stories and seek help. So dafa hoja stigma, we have some stories to share and futures to mold.