According to the report from University of Pennsylvania, four Asian American students committed suicide in the past year. In 2016, another two students, Madison Holleran and Elvis Hatcher, were found jumping off a tower, and hanging in the apartment respectively. Even though the average suicidal rate of Asian Americans is about half that of the national average, if you look at the data for college students or teenagers as a particular group, the number is quite different.
For elite schools such as Harvard, MIT or Cornell, the suicidal rate in Asian community is twice higher than other racial groups. In this article, I’ll be discussing three reasons for this specific “syndrome” within Asian American students.
1. “Self-fulfilling Prophecy”
There’s a famous terminology in psychology: self-fulfilling prophecy, which means “any positive or negative expectation about circumstances, events, or people that may affect a person's behavior toward them in a manner that causes those expectations to be fulfilled.” As we know, Asian Americans are tagged as “successful”, “smart”, “hardworking”, and even “model minorities.”
We have Asian celebrities and public figures ranging from Elaine Zhao, the former Secretary of Labor, to Robert Kiyosaki who is a real estate businessman as well as a best-selling books’ author. At school, Asian students are most likely to be selected as class veterinarians due to their excellent academic performances. However, although being in AP/honor classes or spending much more time on studying than other peers in college may not be their own willingness, they still have to get used to. Schools make assumptions on Asians’ academic abilities and treat this group differently. Therefore, some of them have no choice, but go with the flow and work hard, because this is what the society requests them to do, regardless whether they like what they’re doing or not.
Through a longer-term accumulation, the invisible problem would finally be exposed. Asian students who took school seriously before may feel that life is meaningless: they’re not chasing their dreams, but have used their whole life fulfilling other people’s expectations towards them. In this case, the disappointment, self-doubt, and insecurity for future may eventually lead them to end their lives by suicide.
2. High pressure from their parents
Most Asian immigrants were originally from countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea, where competition is fierce. Unlike the education system in Western countries, Asian countries use only one entry exam to decide which college a student should go. In order to stand out in such a system, one has to work really hard and knows how to get good grades.
Although some of these people immigrant to a new country where innovation and creation are encouraged, their traditional Asian educational perceptions are irreplaceable; they send their kids to best schools and ask them to follow their old path, because what they believe is that earning degrees is the only way of being successful.
Additionally, Asians’ community is pretty small with a close bond, and people compare with each other all the time. “Small talks” often occur among parents who has retired, and their children seem to be the only topic that interest them. These parents have a sense of competition: their kids salaries, working positions, cars’ brands, degrees, and even marriage. Thus, we can see the high pressure on those second or third-generation Asian immigrants from their parents, which is another factor for suicide.
3. Struggling for their identity
Most immigrants have problems dealing with the uneasiness of their new lives in a new country. They’re not pure Americans, even though some of them try really hard to integrate into the society, and be “normal people”, just like other peers at school. However, they can never make this come true because they’re born between two cultures.
They may have parents who don’t speak English at all or parents who ask them to behave as “well-mannered” traditional Asian kids. In the meantime, these immigrants have a strong eagerness to get rid of their “Asian symbols” that may not be necessary in nowadays American society.
In a country which promote students to explore their own academic passion, Asian students may have certain career goals for future, but at the same time, may conflict with their parents’ hopes. It’s hard to choose when they have to consider cultural differences and identities. In this case, when the struggle is being enlarged, the suicidal idea can be brought up again.