Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Asian American Suicide Prevention Initiative - Part Two

Jessica and I did indeed attend the AASPI event on Friday and I felt compelled to share some of our takeaways from the experience.

Some important general information that they shared was:

1) The largest # of suicides worldwide occur in Asian countries.

2)Despite this, there is a significant lack of information about suicide and Asian Americans.

3) A good number of Asian Americans view mental illness through a spiritual lens versus a medical or scientific lens.

4) In prevention and intervention efforts, it is essential to include the cultural perspective and heritage of the community, remembering that each Asian community is vastly different in terms of language, culture, traditions and more.

Members of Loyola University's faculty were given a grant from Mental Health America of Illinois to study Asian American college students' perceptions on suicide. After speaking extensively with nearly 30 students from varying Asian-American backgrounds, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, Korean, and Filipino, they discovered that:

1) Their views of death were mostly positive. Death itself was something good, an expected and celebrated part of life that meant movement toward a better life where one is closer to God.

2) Their views about suicide in general were markedly different. Suicide was considered shocking, selfish, weak, shameful, taboo, and something that would cause severe embarrassment and anger among families.

3) Their views of risk factors were much less focused on anything mental illness related. The focus instead was on such things as: psychological and social loneliness, inter-generational conflict and familial pressure, stress in the acculturation process, and pressure to meet the model minority myth.

4) Their views of protective factors included some typically thought of options such as having social support through family, friends, and religion, receiving acceptance and unconditional love from parents and extended family, as well as adequate, timely and culturally sensitive and competent community resources to go to for help. However, they also included such things as religious beliefs (i.e. religious prohibition of suicide), suicide stigma (you will be shamed if you do this), and the "positive" aspect of pressure from parents and not wanting to disappoint them as "factors" that could discourage suicide.

As an organization that works to disarm stigma regarding mental illness, it was very challenging to me personally to think of stigma as a protective factor. This is something I am mulling over.

5) Their views of resources and helpful interventions were interesting as well. The study participants talked about the benefit of using indirect approaches, rather than calling out the "mental illness" or "suicide" aspect, in outreach efforts, as well as the availability of hotlines, and the idea of making at least intro to counseling sessions mandatory at schools so that everyone can get a taste of the benefits of these types of services.

That is what was covered in a nutshell in an almost 2 hour presentation. A lot to digest, I must say but all very enlightening!

An important reminder Jessica and I walked away discussing is that while this study offered a lot of valuable insight, it was only the perspectives of 30 students surveyed.

Erasing the Distance is committed to making more in-roads into the Asian American community with our work and are therefore very open to hearing your perspectives on this topic!

If you are Asian-American and are reading this post:
1) Do you agree with the study participants?

2) What are your feelings about suicide? Individually and through the lens of your culture and ethnicity?

3) What do you think makes an Asian American more at risk for suicide and what do you think would help prevent suicide from happening in your community?

4) Lastly, what interventions do you think would be helpful to open the door to dialogue in your community?

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks to AASPI, Loyola University and MHAI for creating the dialogue! We appreciate the chance to carry it forward here.

Executive Artistic Director
Erasing the Distance

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