Can we talk about suicide and mental illness now?
How many more celebrities have to die tragically, before we can talk about these hard topics of life and death?
Death is one of those topics that most people don’t want to talk about; there are many reasons for that. But death is a certainty; we are all human and mortal.
Closely related to that, talking about why one should keep on living, can be a difficult subject to bring up, especially for the person that has those kind of thoughts.
When Celebrities Get Our Attention
Kate Spade and Anthony Bordain died this week because they couldn’t shake those negative thoughts. Other celebrities have died tragically from self-harm too, including Robin Williams, Prince, Amy Winehouse, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, and others.
This Chicago Tribune piece, Anthony Bourdain suicide a reminder of celebrities’ distance from us, noted how we all share very little of ourselves: “The reality is that it’s only a fraction of who they are, the part of themselves they choose to put out and share.”
Most people, both celebrities and the rest of us, typically share the best of our lives, like highlight reels. Life isn’t like that. Suicide happens to the celebrated and successful. Every day, over a hundred suicides happen in the United States; that is too many.
I Struggle with Suicide as an Asian American
Last year, I was struggling very badly. More than a handful of times in my life, I get plagued with negative thoughts of suicide that would not go away. There are different reasons for that each time. Once it was ideological and existential; other times it was unbearable stress that triggered mental illness. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2000 and I’ve had to work hard to manage that, sometimes harder than others.
Last year, I was arrested during a psychotic episode of hypomania and committed to a psych ward. My story was posted on the website of my church and its printed bulletins. Thank God that He gave me enough support through family, friends, medication, therapy, and more, so I can be well again. I know others may not be so privileged and I hurt for them, I hurt with them.
Growing up in a shame-based culture as an Asian Americans, it is that much more difficult to talk about death and suicide. Though it may be hard, it is necessary. I would dare say, it is urgent. (I have much more to say in the weeks and months ahead.)
Erasing Shame about Mental Health
I’m very grateful to be part of launching the Erasing Shame podcast where we have honest talk about healthy living. This summer we’ll have a special series specifically focused on erasing shame about mental health for Asian Americans. I hope you’ll share this with others. Sharing our pain is the first step to erasing shame.