Jiwon Lee. Kevin Lee. Andrew Sun.
The 52-year-old Korean vice-principal of Danwon High School hung himself after more than 200 students remained missing after the tragic April ferry disaster.
University of Illinois student Hye Min Choi, 19, remains missing after his luggage arrived at its destination but he did not.
A Huffington Post article by Andrew Lam starts out declaring mental health issues and suicide in the Asian American community is a hidden tragedy.
It is not. It is out in the open. It’s on television, in the newspapers, in the stats. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Asian American women ages 15-24. Did you read that and let it sink in?
SUICIDE is the SECOND-LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AMONG ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN AGES 15-24.
Why and how is this hidden? When I look at my own life I cannot ignore the impact of mental illness and suicide among Asians and Asian Americans.
My cousins. My aunt. Me. A college girlfriend. A friend from my high school youth group. A freshman at Northwestern University during my years on staff with the Asian American InterVarsity chapter. Countless students struggling with depression and anxiety. They were not hidden even as some of them tried desperately tried to hide what they thought was failure, shameful, a burden, a sin.
I have written about my own life with depression and about being on an antidepressant. The decision to “go public” was not an easy one. My husband initially was reluctant about it for the same reasons I was as well. I waited a year, all the while under the care of doctors and taking Lexapro, before writing and speaking publicly about it because I wasn’t sure how my extended family and those connected to them would respond.
Asians and Asian Americans are communal and that value has its good days and its “need Jesus days” and when it comes to mental illness the Church needs to speak Jesus loudly and clearly. The fear is that a diagnosis of mental illness, made worse if it goes public, will not only reflect poorly on the individual but on the entire family. And if the family and the family’s network doesn’t understand the physiology and science behind the illness, fear drives people and their families into hiding.
I am writing this as a Christian who is deeply aware of my cultural lenses and privileges, and I’m willing to beat the drum on this. Asian and Asian American Christians, we need to get out heads out of our butts. We need to talk about mental illness, about our questions and fears. We need to pray and invite doctors into the conversations. We need to ask for help, and we need to get help for ourselves and for the ones we love. We need to stop talking about this in hushed tones and whispers because we live in the now and not yet – in the tension of cultures and brokenness and hope, and we cannot let the Enemy keep telling us lies and letting our brothers and sisters believe the lies.
We have to stop the insidious message that failing to be the perfect fill-in-the-blank means we are worthless, a burden, an embarrassment.
We must stop shoving God to the side and replacing faithfulness with GPAs, test scores, and academic achievement.
We must identify the brokenness in our families, stop the cycle of honoring the American Dream over following Jesus, become parents who fiercely love our children by naming our mistakes and apologizing for them when we are jerks.
We must learn to talk about mental illness like an illness and not a sin. I repeat. Mental illness is not a sin. And neither – mental illness OR sin – should be left hidden in our Christian communities.
We have to face the music. We have sinned by not identifying the broken patterns of parenting and relating to one another that fuel the false narrative that material and academic success=faithfulness and health.
We have to break the model minority stereotype because it isn’t a compliment. It isn’t positive. It doesn’t help our community or make it easier for us to be Americans. A stereotype is a broken image that is used by and against others to demean, degrade, and reduce others.
And I write this with the weight and fear that my depression could be genetic and that the many years I parented while untreated for my depression has already left a mark that will take equal measure of prayer and medical & psychological intervention. I worry and pray that my depression isn’t passed on to my daughter and sons. I do not want this kind of suffering for them, but I also cannot pray away suffering. The Christian life isn’t about running away from suffering, and I am afraid our silence has been exactly that.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have almost gotten away with not talking about it because frankly I’m a bit ambivalent about it for reasons I may blog about later. But this year the theme is #IAmBeyond and personally that evokes anger, strength, voice, hope, and action.
#IAmBeyond silence and stigmas
#IAmBeyond the lie that depression is a sin
#IAmBeyond keeping our stories silent to save face
#IAmBeyond the model minority myth
#IAmBeyond believing silence makes it go away
Thank you Kathy for sharing your truth and your struggle. <3 I too for years tried to press down and pray out depression and mental illness in my own life. After a recent second breakdown I could no longer justify it as a bad day or an "attack of the enemy." In my culture, we too "hide" behind the devastating reality of mental illness. In the Black Church you are told to get over it and have more faith. In our homes we often self-medicate with "soul food" and loud laughter. But when the plate is empty and there is nobody left in the room to laugh the pain away this disease comes back with vengeance and takes away lives.
Keep using your voice to give strength to the voiceless.
Keep shouting the truth until the fear is broken.
Thank you for your honesty and courage as well! Yes, it is a horrible thing that the Enemy does – twist the good in our cultures and use it to mask and hide brokenness that can be healed. May we both continue to find the strength to shout truth in the face of fear!
…brokenness that can he healed. LOVE THAT!
This is a great post. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Oh, well said, Kathy. Thank you for addressing this head on, for staking a claim, for calling others to action and boldness and a life without fear or shame. Excellent.
Pastor DT, thank you for the affirmation. Hitting “publish” can be a frightening thing.
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