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Suicide among Indian Americans: We're Depressed, But Who's Listening?

Sunita Sohrabji, Special to The Informer from New America Media | 8/14/2013, 3 p.m.
A year before he died earlier this year on April 23, Sunil Tripathi had dropped out of college at Brown ...
Courtesy photo

A year before he died earlier this year on April 23, Sunil Tripathi had dropped out of college at Brown University, allegedly suffering from bouts of depression.

Tripathi, 22, went missing Mar. 15 from his Providence, R.I., home, leaving behind his cell phone and his wallet. The former philosophy major, who played saxophone in a jazz band, also left a three-word note: “goodbye cruel world,” according to several media sources.

Despite the alleged note, Tripathi’s family, father Akhil, mother Judy, sister Sangeeta and brother Ravi, set up a massive social media effort – “Lend Your Hand” – to find the young man, who was described as thoughtful and gentle by his friends.

Tripathi’s body was pulled Apr. 23 from the Providence River. In a brief interview with India-West shortly after her brother’s body was found, Sangeeta Tripathi said she and her family were struggling with attempting to understand what had happened.

Ravi Tripathi, Sunil’s brother, told CNN, “He was never clinically diagnosed with depression. But we in the family knew he had problems with his mood.”

In 2008, Congress proclaimed July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. One out of four adults living in the U.S. and one out of every 10 children struggles with mental health issues, reports the National Alliance on Mental Health, one of the country’s largest non-profit organizations addressing the issue.

Minority communities are less likely to access health care for mental health issues because of the stigma surrounded around depression and other mental health illnesses, according to NAMI.

While there is a lack of data related to depression in the South Asian American community, a study released by the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum reported that a higher percentage of South Asian Americans, especially between the ages of 15 to 24, tested positive for symptoms of depression.

Young South Asian American women have a higher rate of suicide than the general U.S. population, noted the study, adding that family conflict, anxiety and stress were precursors to depression and suicide in this community.

Conversely, South Asian Americans are the lowest users of mental health services because of the perceived cultural stigma attached to mental health issues, noted the APIAHF report.

Asian American teenage girls have the highest rates of suicide of any U.S. population, concluded NAMI in a 2011 report.

HIGH RATES OF SUICIDE

Suicide levels are very high among Asian Americans, agreed Aruna Rao, associate director of the New Jersey chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Young people don’t have any outlets to talk about their problems and they try suicide and complete suicide,” she told India-West.

“They can’t talk to their families, because we are the model minority, so there’s no one to talk to,” said Rao, adding that the bulk of young people who successfully commit suicide have not been diagnosed with depression.

Parijat Deshpande, a clinical psychologist and founder of MySahana, an organization which aims to increase awareness about mental health issues, said very few Indian Americans seek counseling.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about what mental health is. Those few that do come for counseling often don’t know why they are there,” Deshpande told India-West.

“There’s definitely a stigma in the community about discussing mental health issues. People don’t understand why it’s important to share, and they feel, ‘I don’t know whether they will be able to understand me,’” she said, noting that the greater mental health community for the most part does not have enough knowledge of the South Asian culture.

Editor’s note: India West reporter Sunita Sohrabji received a fellowship from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism to report on mental health disorders in the South Asian American community.

Read the full article at IndiaWest.com