My Captain, A Struggle, Universal Pain

By Razia Kosi

It’s Monday evening, 8:35pm and I’m about to write a summary from the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA) Conference that I attended last Wednesday, and I just found out that Robin Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide. I could write about how suicide needs to be addressed in the Asian and the South Asian community, which it does, but suicide and mental health need to be addressed, period.

I can’t think of one person, including myself, who has not been affected in someway by a mentalDSC02658 illness or a suicide. My daughter was hospitalized for a suicidal attempt, two years ago. Another friend in this profession lost his brother to suicide from bipolar disorder. Earlier this summer, a close friend lost her husband to suicide. All of these situations did not have warning signs. Underlying issues with my daughter are being treated, and she is taking care of her mental health. The crisis that culminated in my friend’s husband taking his own life was tragic and happened in a short span of time. My friend and colleague’s brother was diagnosed with a mental illness prior to his suicide. Our mental health is as vital to our lives as any other part of our physical health. It can’t be ignored. Lives depend on our nurturing and taking care of our mental health.

photoKiran Ahuja, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on AAPIs, gave the opening keynote at the AAPA conference and bravely took the step to talk about losing her own brother to suicide. She shared a family picture of him. She stated that it’s still hard for her family to openly talk about what happened. Do Asians have an additional layer of stigma that keeps us from seeking help? Pain is pain; struggle is struggle. We need to respond with greater empathy and support for those who need to obtain help.

Researchers Angela Horn and Tao Lui at Indiana State University shared the theory of the model minority paradox: the idea that Asian students may have higher rates of suicidal ideation than white peers, but they were actually less likely to act upon and complete them. They identified five protective factors:

  • Desire to not hurt or burden others- putting the importance of family and others needs before their own
  • Social Support- positive influences from family, friends, and partners. If family and friends encouraged the person with the suicidal ideation to seek help, then they were more likely to seek professional help
  • Fear- fear about what would happen after death or the physical pain
  • Self-Reliance- will-power, self-control, belief in the ability to independently solve emotional distress
  • Insight and meaning- realization of a purpose for living.

My family member, my friend’s husband, Kiran Ahuja’s brother, my friend’s brother, they all touched those close to them and we are forever changed by their loss or hospitalization.

When a celebrity like Robin Williams takes his life, we all can share in the loss and tragedy. He was in our living rooms; I mean how many times did we catch Mrs. Doubtfire on TV and had to stop and watch it? Many of us were kids in the early 80’s with rainbow suspenders, and we greeted each other with “Na-Noo, Na-Noo”. We could see the glimpses of hypomania, when he would “let loose” and do his improvisation as a comedian, and we loved him for it. How many people did he let in, when he had his dark days? How difficult was it for him to be our lovable Robin Williams when depression overwhelmed him? He, too, was a human: brilliant, fragile, strong, vulnerable, talented, and tormented. We can all embrace in a communal bonding of grief and sadness in the loss of a great talent. We can also learn more about mental illness and be there for others who are in pain or nurture ourselves towards better mental health.

“If you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – Carpe – hear it?  Carpe, Carpe Diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

– Robin Williams as John Keating, Dead Poets Society

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