Right before the new year, The New York Times ran a story about how the suicide rate is soaring among New York Koreans — it has more than doubled in the last year, from 6 to 15 — even though the total number of suicides in New York City has dropped.
The situation may be even more troubling than the numbers reveal, as the Korean Consulate General in New York stated that it only keeps statistics on Korean citizens, not Korean Americans. Consul General Kyungkeun Kim told The New York Times that he believes the actual figure may be twice as high. The Korea Times has reported that at least 36 Koreans and Korean Americans have taken their lives in the New York region in the last year.
Most Korean suicides in New York have been due to financial hardship.
This information is very relevant to us in the Puget Sound area, as we have not only a large Korean population in the Lynnwood area, but we have a large Asian/Pacific Islander (API) population.
Though the unfortunate state of the economy has affected all of us, perhaps APIs and API Americans are taking it harder. These groups put academic and professional achievement on a very high pedestal. In Asian culture, not meeting one’s expectations often brings great embarrassment and shame, which if severe enough, may drive people to dire actions. One notable example happened last year. We ran a story about the suicide of former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who killed himself because he was implicated in a scandal.
Though many of us are having a tough time right now, we should try to keep a broader perspective and remember that people suffer in different degrees. We should sometimes put aside our worries and be vigilant of someone — a friend, family member, or coworker — who may be worse off.
We should watch for signs of depression, and we should step in and help if we see them — even at the risk of embarrassment. APIs are notorious for being noncommunicative about their hardships. In The New York Times story, acquaintances, family, and friends of the Koreans who killed themselves were completely unaware that anything was going on. This is why we have to pay very close attention to the people around us because evidence of their depression may be tough to spot.
There are many culturally-tailored resources out there for people in dire circumstances who are depressed. We should value and use these resources more often. There are many organizations here in the International District that either can directly help, or point you in the right direction. Another good way to gain help is through local religious or community centers. ♦