asian american students and suicide

Three Chinese American students at Caltech have killed themselves in the last three months. Two died by helium asphyxiation and the cause of death of the third student, though deemed a suicide, is yet to be determined. Their stories have been covered in the Chinese language media, but remain virtually unreported in the mainstream.

Unfortunately, these suicides are anything but isolated incidents -- according to a recent report from the CDC, Asian Americans are much more likely than the average American to commit suicide. This is a good article on the staggering rate of suicide in the Asian American community: Asian Americans' Rising Suicide Rates -- Three Students Take their Lives.

I was stunned to read that at Cornell University, for instance, 13 of the 21 student suicide victims between 1996 and 2006 were Asian or Asian Americans (Asians make up only 14 percent of the total Cornell student body). In 2002, Cornell formed a special Asian and Asian American Campus Climate Task Force to look into the reason behind the high number of suicides.

While the traditional mainstream narrative might paint Asian Americans in higher education as model minority overachievers on a path to success, the real story reveals a much darker portrait of family burdens, cultural pressures and unaddressed mental health issues. As a community, we need to start a dialogue about suicide, rather than sweeping it under the rug.

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