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Why are Asian American Women at Risk for Suicide?

August 26, 2009


I ran across this post on the Disgrasian blog.

It talks about a new study that reconfirms a disturbing trend in the Asian American community.

Asian American women are at risk for suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts at rates higher than the national average.

This new University of Washington study found:

15.93 percent of U.S.-born Asian-American women have contemplated suicide in their lifetime, exceeding national estimates of 13.5 percent for all Americans…. Lifetime estimates of suicide attempts also were higher among U.S-born Asian-American women than the general population, 6.29 percent vs. 4.6 percent.

Other findings from the study include:

  • The percentage of Asian-Americans who reported thinking about suicide increased the longer they lived in the U.S.
  • Young Asian-Americans, between 18 and 34, had the highest estimates of thinking about (11.9 percent), planning (4.38 percent) and attempting suicide (3.82 percent) of any age group
  • Asian-Americans who were never married reported the highest lifetime estimates of thinking about (17.9 percent) planning (7.6 percent) and attempting (5 percent) suicide.
  • There were few major differences by ethnicity, although Chinese (10.9 percent) and Filipinos (9.76 percent) reported the highest rates of thinking about suicide.

The University of Washington study reiterates statistics from the US Health and Human Services Department that Asian American women age 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of all women. 

Though the UW study does not seem to offer significant explanations for this high suicide rate, the Disgrasian blog suggests that the pressure to succeed and reluctance to seek treatment for mental health disorders are major factors.

One interesting thing about the UW study is that suicide rates seem to be higher for *native* born Asian American women than for immigrants to the USA. Indeed, another article on the study notes that “the longer an Asian-American immigrant had lived in the United States, the more likely she was to have considered suicide.”

Furthermore, it comments that “while Asian Americans overall have lower-than-average suicide rates, U.S.-born Asian-American women are more likely than the average American to think about or try killing themselves.”

One would think that Asian immigrants also have a similar push to succeed and aversion to mental health treatment as native-born Asian Americans, yet there is a notable difference in suicide-related actions between the two groups.

So, in addition to the factors mentioned above, there seems to be something about the American environment itself (and being socialized in it) that fosters suicidal behaviors.

What that something is, I’ll leave to your imagination.


Here are some links to mental health resources for the Asian American community

-National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association

-National Asian Women’s Health Organization

-US Government, Office of the Surgeon General (with links to Asian American health resources)

22 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    August 26, 2009 11:35 am

    Thank you for making the problem known, however, it’s irresponsible to place this issue on the table without any available support or guidance, especially when the intended audience of this article is of the focused population. Please supply links for those who need it or want to help. We need to learn to nurture each other. Thank you.

  2. Linda permalink
    August 26, 2009 12:34 pm

    Also, could you pick another pic for this article? The one you have is too disturbing and heartless.

  3. August 27, 2009 9:03 pm

    I’ll see what I can dig up in terms of mental health counseling resources for Asian Americans. As for the picture, let me see.

  4. September 1, 2009 5:46 am

    i don’t mind the picture, actually. a bit disturbing, but definitely an attention grabber.

  5. anna123 permalink
    September 6, 2009 2:35 am

    Picture is strong, serious, keep it up.

  6. Jolie permalink
    October 1, 2009 6:40 am

    As an Asian American woman who once tried to kill herself and ended up in a mental hospital for it, I like to think I could shed some light on this issue, as per my own experience.

    Well, to be honest, anything I can write on this in a comments box wouldn’t be able to capture what I was going through at the time, but what it boiled down to was a complete lack of support:

    -When I turned to my family for help, I was told that everything would be OK as long as I shut up and quit whining. Was this because they came from a culture that stigmatized mental illness, or because my parents are just emotionally constipated people? I have no idea.

    -When I turned to my school’s counselor for help, she said she didn’t believe that I had depression, even though I’d exhibited all the symptoms, including insomnia, loss of weight, sinking grades. Was this because she’d bought into the model minority myth to the point where she was incapable of believing an Asian girl could be depressed, or because she was merely incompetent? I have no idea.

    And aside from the lack of support, I was getting some harsh messages at a time when I (along with my peers) was trying to solidify a sense of self-identity:

    -All my life I’ve been told I’m not American enough, even though I was born in the US, got perfect scores on my verbal SATs, participated in all-American extracurricular activities, etc., just because of the color of my skin. The US is my home… it hurts to be always seen as the Other in your home.

    -But at the same time, I’m constantly told I’m not Asian enough, even though I participate in Asian American advocacy and cultural groups, moved overseas just to learn Chinese, and am fiercely proud of my heritage, etc. just because I was born in the US, speak Chinese with an accent and fell in love with and married a white man (the last seriously kills me. Would I have been more Asian if I married an Asian guy? Was I more Asian when I was in a relationship with my Asian ex?) I derive a lot of comfort and support from pride in my heritage, especially when dealing with racism — so to be rejected by other Asian Americans because of one of the above things really hurt (and still hurts).

    In short, all my life I was told I was not enough of this or that — in other words, a failure — in two things that had a big hand in defining my sense of self. And I lacked support from the people that I counted on to give it to me. I don’t know to what extend my race and culture had a hand in influencing the latter, but I know that it did. Add that to a genetic predisposition for depression (I’m not the only one in my family who has attempted to suicide) and you have the perfect set-up for an emotional train wreck.

    It’s been a few years since my last truly awful depressive episode. I’ve been coping with it, in large part by just getting on with my life and enjoying what I have. But of course all those opposing messages I get (you are not American enough, you are not Asian enough, you are a race traitor, you are constantly foreign) still hurt, only the difference is that now I let them galvanize me instead of crushing me.

  7. October 2, 2009 11:28 pm

    Hi Jolie.

    Thanks for your sharing your personal experiences with this issue. They really make this topic of suicide much more real and tangible, and not just an abstraction.

    Here is a good link to an interview with Aileen Duldulao, the lead researcher for the Univ. of Washington suicide study, and Jen Wang from the Disgrasian blog mentioned above.

    Best wishes.

  8. hansimann permalink
    February 12, 2010 8:37 am

    I think many immigrant groups suffer a similar sense of identity confusion or loss as the one described by Jolie. And, you dont have to be colored to suffer from it. To suggest that there is something wrong with America–that the society itself brings about alienation–is a bit misleading, though. People are always finding fault with the USA for whatever reason. I think all societies exclude before they include. In other words, try living in China if you’re white. I did and it’s nearly impossible to be accepted on any level, social, cultural, racial. The same goes for Africans in China. They fare even worse. And, of course, it’s not just China. All cultures are exclusive, some to greater degrees than others. The difference with America is that it is very multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural whereas other lands are less so. Some tolerate no other religions than their own (E.g. Saudi Arabia and increasingly Iran). So, exclusion is not an American phenomenon and should not be presented as such.

  9. February 12, 2010 10:12 am

    @ hansimann

    You are such an insecure White American flagwaver, it ain’t even funny.

    Whenever anybody even remotely criticizes the self-styled Land of the Free, Americans like you can only do thing: start pointing fingers in the other direction at other countries.

    That’s pathetic and predictable.

    But trying to change the topic and deflect blame ain’t exactly a convincing defense for American society itself.

    “The difference with America is that it is very multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural whereas other lands are less so.”

    No. The difference is America loves to boast about how it’s so multicultural and tolerant of diversity, that it’s the Beacon of Liberty for the entire world, smugly asserting how superior it is to other nations–as you do above.

    But here is the ugly American reality that gives the lie to your delusional White world.

    Guantanamo: American Gulag

    Homeland Gitmo

    Welcome to the world of immigration detention, where over 32,000 immigrants are detained on any given day.

    America’s Secret ICE Castles

  10. john permalink
    February 17, 2010 7:53 am


    I believe you could have handled the last comment with some tack. Let’s face it; the Asian-American community itself is a diverse community, let alone trying to reconcile the views of mainstream America and beyond. I believe this website is doing good things raising issues, but to attack anyone who slightly disagrees and expressing an opinion without a malicious intent is a step in the wrong direction. Keep raising awareness and let’s be the change we want to see.


    Thank you for your heartfelt response. I believe that your struggle is similar to my experiences as the questions of identity keeps coming up again and again for us of Third Culture. It always perplexed me as to why people can’t just be called and considered American if they are born here. Society (or us?) somehow bring it back to race. This is also not a one side vs. another because this struggle also splits many in the Asian-American community.

    I, myself, get confused sometime. I’m Korean, born in Singapore, raised in USA. What does that make me? A human being.

  11. February 17, 2010 9:54 am

    @ John

    Your comments remind me of the many platitudes that mainstream America always spouts in order to avoid facing those pesky issues of racism and oppression in the Land of the Free.

    Sadly, all the diversions or cliched banalities in the world won’t make reality go away.

  12. fromthetropics permalink
    February 22, 2010 9:46 am

    The difference with America is that it is very multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural whereas other lands are less so.

    hmmmm, hansiman had a point, but in defending the US, I think hansiman made the mistake of homogenizing everyone else and implied that the US is ‘better’. Indonesia has about 300 (some say 500) ethnic groups and languages, the Philippines has 175 languages…in fact, I think most countries are multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious, multiracial (the difference being that ‘race’ isn’t always about white and black people. So, for Americans who are used to the black/white paradigm, it may be a bit difficult to recognize the diversity inherent in other countries. There are quite a few other ‘races’ in existence too you know, though ‘race’ is a problematic way of categorizing people anyway.)

  13. Medusa permalink
    February 22, 2010 11:50 am

    Jolie- I don’t have anything constructive to add, aside from thank you for writing about your experience.

    HA!!! I am an African (Ghanaian) who spent an extensive amount of time in both China and America, and what I went through in China pales in comparison to the fucking bullshit I went through in America, the self-professed greatest nation on earth. I can see myself living in China again. I will never, ever, go back to America.

  14. sebastin permalink
    January 3, 2011 8:10 pm

    Being here in asia, it think its due to cultural restraints imposed on most asians by their families, boundaries on who to love, what religion to follow, and many more. Its good to see people speaking out on this topic. Saw similar story of a thai girl who committed suicide on video chat, while her boyfriend watched at – Its actually a trade by barter site for Asians, but they have alot of these kind of stories on their blog

  15. January 4, 2011 10:12 am

    @ sebastin

    You are conflating Asian American culture with Asian culture. This has about as much logic as understanding European American behavior primarily through the lens of what is happening over in Europe.

    And if the stereotypes of Asian culture that you hold were the primary cause of suicide it doesn’t explain why native-born Asian American women have *higher* suicide rates than the Asian immigrant women (who are less assimilated into US culture).

    As that UW study says, “the longer an Asian-American immigrant had lived in the United States, the more likely she was to have considered suicide.”

  16. Bob permalink
    January 6, 2011 4:54 am


    This is funny as Hell.
    No matter the topic, it’s basically the same reply, with the same vitriolic rhetoric.
    One trick pony was an accurate description of you.
    AAM, hypocrisy is thy name.
    Somebody who sees the world in white and white.
    Here’s another quote that fits you.

    “You are stuck on stupid” Lt. Gen. Honore 2005

  17. January 12, 2011 8:41 pm


    You took time out to crawl out of your mother’s basement to show off your Sarah Palin-style argumentation skills. Congrats. You must be a proud boy.

    Once again, however, you avoid addressing the original topic of the post.

    Hell, you cannot offer even a semi-coherent rebuttal to the findings of that University of Washington study, which document how native-born Asian American women actually have higher suicide rates than immigrants, and that suicidal ideations rise among Asian women immigrants the longer they live in America.

    Next time, try to come up with a real argument that actually addresses the subject matter– instead of your standard drive-by vitriol or hiding behind quotations like a parrot (and a badly trained one at that).

    Diversionary shit-slinging may work in your Dittohead world, but nowhere else.

  18. Bob permalink
    January 15, 2011 12:56 am

    I can just picture you hyperventilating as you type, with drool coming down your chin.
    Argumentation skills? That was a statement, not an argument. A commentary on YOUR rebuttal “skills”.
    I have no interest in rebutting the findings. Your blog post was pretty straight forward until the end. The cause is definitely racism in what passes for your mind.
    Diversionary shit slinging? You mean like your SB1070 “debate”? Refusing to discuss the actual law and making it about JT Ready, who had nothing to do with creating the bill.

  19. January 20, 2011 6:45 pm

    You’re projecting your own failings onto others again, Bobby boy. Drooling hyperventilation is what you and other Glen Beck clones specialize in. Just watch Fox News.

    Thus, you have no interest in rebutting the University of Washington findings because you have no counter-argument. And you know it.

    Indeed, you have no original arguments, sorry, … “statements” of your own in general. The best that you can do is to regurgitate quotations or offer a bad imitation of the comical rants of Sarah “Crosshairs” Palin in order to compensate.

    Speaking of Arizona, I see that you’re still lying and denying the racist foundation of SB1070 from hate-group lawyer Kris Kobach, who authored that law, to Neo-Nazi sympathizer Russell Pearce, who sponsored it.

    Here’s some more links that you have no answer for:

    Rachel Maddow Exposes Racist Origins of SB1070

    Hate Group Lawyer Drafted Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law

  20. soros permalink
    July 24, 2011 2:42 pm

    Whoever the moron is who called me an American, I am not, and I think it presumptuous to even think so. It seems to me you are an anti-American hatemonger, pure and simple, and your posts are anti-US propaganda. Moron.

  21. soros permalink
    July 24, 2011 2:47 pm

    You know, “Asianamericanmovement”, you ought to go out an live in the world for a time before you shout your foul mouth off so much. Try living in China for a while and see how many legal rights you have, fool. Try living in the Middle East. Millions of people are trying to get into the US for a simply chance at making it in a democracy rather than living in the shit holes they were born in. My impression of YOU asshole is that you are one ungrateful moron. If you are Asian, as you claim to be, you need a shrink, and soon.

  22. soros permalink
    July 24, 2011 2:48 pm

    You know, “Asianamericanmovement”, you ought to go out and live in the world for a time before you shout your foul mouth off so much. Try living in China for a while and see how many legal rights you have, fool. Try living in the Middle East. Millions of people are trying to get into the US for a simply chance at making it in a democracy rather than living in the shit holes they were born in. My impression of YOU asshole is that you are one ungrateful moron. If you are Asian, as you claim to be, you need a shrink, and soon.

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