It's Time to Talk: South Asian Women in the U.S. Have Some of the Highest Suicide Rates
This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post.
Growing up, we hear aunties and uncles boast about and compare their children's grades, looks, and other signs signaling a promising future of social status. As we get older, everything is up for comparison -- the amount of money we make, the career we embark on, the lives we show to the world on social media, and even the ones we love.
The expectations are always rising; our self-worth, always plummeting. We are never enough.
Undoubtedly, being a young South Asian woman in the U.S. poses unique pressures and challenges. There is the pressure to live up to the usual unhealthy mainstream standards of female perfection, but then there are also many cultural expectations to abide by.
Combined, it amounts to a silent understanding that to be an acceptable young South Asian woman in the U.S. means to value being a somebody over simply oneself.
While women from all backgrounds struggle with this, this is an issue that is increasingly becoming more problematic for our demographic.
According to a study a few years ago, young South Asian women in the U.S. were found to have a higher suicide rate than the general U.S. population.
Many factors account for this high figure ranging from anxiety, cultural stigma, to greater racial and social issues affecting South Asian communities.
As Aruna Rao -- associate director of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association on Mental Illness -- told India West, "We are the model minority, so there's no one to talk to."
Clearly, this needs to change. That's why I launched a new section on Brown Girl Magazine, dedicated to promoting emotional health among young South Asian women. I've also created The Desi Wellbeing Project, which is dedicated to celebrating and promoting emotional wellbeing in the South Asian communities regardless of gender.
I hope to initiate conversation not just about the mental health crisis in our communities, but also about what it actually means to be an emotionally healthy South Asian female.
What does she look like? How does she live?
What can we do to help our culture nurture and support her emotional growth?
These are important questions to ponder because, at the end of the day, this isn't just an issue about mental health. This is a South Asian feminist issue as well. We may have achieved a lot of admirable socioeconomic success in the West, but our young women are suffering because of the lack of attention paid to psychological empowerment in our close-knit communities.
Moreover, in the West, female empowerment often equates itself with professional power and success. But how true and healthy is that definition of empowerment for us South Asian women, when the pressure to be perfect and attain social status is one of the things leading us to dehumanize ourselves and end our own lives? There's clearly more to female empowerment than just the professional aspect of one's life.
So let's start talking about that.
I've known many, including myself, who have struggled to maintain positive mental health as a result of many of our unique cultural struggles. From a firsthand experience, I know that many of my problems deepened due to the stigma. I probably would have gotten better faster if there was more education and women like me openly talking about their lives.
I'm hoping to break this cycle of silence by talking about my own journey towards an emotionally healthy life, what I've learned, and what works for me.
Beyond writing about my own journey, however, I will also feature individuals and initiatives promoting psychologically healthy attitudes and ways of living.
Specifically, we will write about:
• Resources to help and inspire you. Believe it or not, there is help for South Asians living in the Diaspora--from nonprofits, e-books, community groups/centers, counselors to websites like Brown Girl Magazine, HumanologyProject.com, Masalamommas.com and India.com.
• Keeping the unique struggles young South Asian female in the US grapple with in mind, we hope to offer tips from professionals, activists, and young women facing mental health stigma in their communities. We will continue to publish more stories that inspire emotionally healthy lives. Feel free to also contribute your own stories, ideas, experiences, and tips.
Here's to breaking the cycles of suicide and silence. No, you're not alone. And yes, it can and it will get better. Join us as we help make it so.