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CNN Reports on Asian American women and Suicide Rates May 21, 2007

Posted by peterong in Asian American, Uncategorized.

CNN (did you know it stands for Cable News Network?) did a report on suicide rates for Asian American women (was this to coincide with Asian Pacific American Heritage month?). The report ties in that it has to do with Asian American culture and our pursuit of the “model minority” dream for Asian Americans to succeed.

This made me think that part of the issue is our failure of community…how socially awkward we are when we discuss issues of brokenness. How we despair in isolation or even offer language or space to voice our despair. I was at a church a few weeks ago where the pastor wept discussing his mother’s cancer, and I sat there thinking how brave it was to expose himself and yet, if this happened in an Asian church, people would be so disgusted that this is being shared on a pulpit. The pulpit is used for power (not authenticity), Community is for service (not healing), Discussions are for information (not revelation) and we create this muted version of the gospel, that denies the complexities of our emotions. So, we continue to breed a generation of fragility. Safe and unheard Christians who value comfort and function…not dangerous and transforming…

This is the cry of a community…this time they are not just dying spiritually, they are dying physically from the famished soul…

So, church, what do you do now? Pray? Yeah, pray…I remember the old slogan, PUSH (pray until something happens)…something is happening, we are praying so much that people are dying…we should pray, but we should act…we should engage…there is a girl in your fellowship who is hoping you would ask her a tough question…so get off your computer and write something…(DUSH)…do until something happens…

Christian slogans suck.

Here are some resources for suicide counseling:


National Suicide Prevention Hotline


Befrienders Worldwide

Push to achieve tied to suicide in Asian-American women

By Elizabeth Cohen
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — One evening in 1990, Eliza Noh hung up the phone with her sister. Disturbed about the conversation, Noh immediately started writing a letter to her sister, a college student who was often depressed. “I told her I supported her, and I encouraged her,” Noh says.

But her sister never read the letter. By the time it arrived, she’d killed herself.

Moved by that tragedy, Noh has spent much of her professional life studying depression and suicide among Asian-American women. An assistant professor of Asian-American studies at California State University at Fullerton, Noh has read the sobering statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services: Asian-American women ages 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of women in any race or ethnic group in that age group. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Asian-American women in that age range. (Watch more about Asian-Americans’ feelings of pressure to hide depressionVideo)

Depression starts even younger than age 15. Noh says one study has shown that as young as the fifth grade, Asian-American girls have the highest rate of depression so severe they’ve contemplated suicide.

As Noh and others have searched for the reasons, a complex answer has emerged.

First and foremost, they say “model minority” pressure — the pressure some Asian-American families put on children to be high achievers at school and professionally — helps explain the problem.

“In my study, the model minority pressure is a huge factor,” says Noh, who studied 41 Asian-American women who’d attempted or contemplated suicide. “Sometimes it’s very overt — parents say, ‘You must choose this major or this type of job’ or ‘You should not bring home As and Bs, only As,” she says. “And girls have to be the perfect mother and daughter and wife as well.”

Family pressure often affects girls more than boys, according to Dr. Dung Ngo, a psychologist at Baylor University in Texas. “When I go talk to high school students and ask them if they experience pressure, the majority who raised their hands were the girls,” he said.

Asian-American parents, he says, are stricter with girls than with boys. “The cultural expectations are that Asian women don’t have that kind of freedom to hang out, to go out with friends, to do the kinds of things most teenagers growing up want to do.”

And in Asian cultures, he added, you don’t question parents. “The line of communication in Asian culture one way. It’s communicated from the parents downward,” he says. “If you can’t express your anger, it turns to helplessness. It turns inward into depression for girls. For boys it’s more likely to turn outwards into rebellious behavior and behavioral problems like drinking and fighting.”

But Noh says pressure from within the family doesn’t completely explain the shocking suicide statistics for young women like her sister.

She says American culture has adopted the myth that Asians are smarter and harder-working than other minorities.

“It’s become a U.S.-based ideology, popular from the 1960s onward, that Asian-Americans are smarter, and should be doing well whether at school or work.”

Noh added that simply being a minority can also lead to depression.

“My sister had a really low self-image. She thought of herself as ugly,” she says. “We grew up in Houston in the ’70s and ’80s, and at that time in school there were very few Asian faces. The standard of beauty she wanted to emulate was white women.” In college, Noh’s sister had plastic surgery to make her eyes and nose appear more European-looking.

Heredity, Noh says, also plays a role. She says in her study, many of the suicidal women had mothers who were also suicidal. She says perhaps it’s genetic — some biochemical marker handed down from mother to daughter — or perhaps it’s the daughter observing the mother’s behavior. “It makes sense. You model yourself after the parent of the same gender.”

As varied as the causes of depression, Noh says she saw just as many approaches to overcoming it.

While some women in her study did seek help through counseling and prescription drugs, most of her subjects were ambivalent or even negative about counseling. “They felt the counselor couldn’t understand their situation. They said it would have helped if the counselor were another Asian-American woman.”

These women found help through their religious faith, herbs, acupuncture, or becoming involved in groups that help other Asian women.

“It shows the resourcefulness of these women,” she says. “They had really diverse healing strategies.”

Elizabeth Cohen is a CNN Medical News correspondent. Senior producer Jennifer Pifer and associate producer Sabriya Rice contributed to this report.



1. Lesa Chen - June 15, 2007

I found your blog because of this article. It reminds me of something an Asian American singer-songwriter wrote on her family’s expectations, I think the song was called “Strong.”

2. helen - July 14, 2007

I agree with you. The slogan should not be PUSH. Christians have a tendency to say “i’ll try to pray for you” Though that is good and true, often times there are other things that Christians can still do. In my experience with college-aged, young professionals Christians, they are well-connected. Praying is good and should be done, but there is also something extra that can be done.

Thanks for posting and sharing

3. stella - July 19, 2007

years ago i attended a seminar about “cutting”, the pain is everywhere and the needs are so great. who are we and what can we do? We can be God’s channel of love, but there are times of mourning and then we despair. you see people walking around with smiles and laughters, but you don’t see the hurt that’s underneath. i like the picture, it hurts, but it speaks the truth behind cutting, they are crying for help.

“# A 2003 study commissioned by Samaritans found that more than one in ten 15-16 year olds in the UK have deliberately harmed themselves, and that girls of this age were nearly four times more likely to have self-harmed than boys.[18]
# In a study of undergraduate students in the United States, 9.8% of the students surveyed indicated that they had purposefully cut or burned themselves on at least one occasion in the past. When the definition of self-injury was expanded to include head-banging, scratching oneself, and hitting oneself along with cutting and burning, 32% of the sample said they had done this. This suggests that this problem is not associated only with severely disturbed psychiatric patients but is not uncommon among young adults”

the world is falling, and so do us, we can’t save the world, because we can’t even save ourselves.. this is how much grace we need…and this is how much.. we need Him…

4. philip poon - October 5, 2007

hey peter, sorry for waiting six weeks to contact you. i like this post and can definitely relate. when i’ve brought up some of my struggles to people in cana, i get really insincere cliches and people treat me as if there’s something wrong with me. it’s like they see my vulnerability as a chance to elevate themselves above me and to give me advice, even though i, in no way whatsoever, am asking for advice. it just seems as if it’s become something strange in the church to struggle with feelings of doubt, depression, and lonliness.

i remember hearing someone say that he was going to skip bible study because “he wasn’t in the mood to socialize.”

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