Self-reported data shows Asian Americans have high rates of suicidal thoughts.
Researchers recently reported they’ve found Asian American adolescents have the highest rate of suicidal ideation. The team’s findings were based on a 2019 national self-report survey of high school students. According to the survey’s weighted analysis, “24% of Asian Americans reported thinking about or planning suicide vs. 22% of Whites and Blacks and 20% of Hispanics (P < .01).” These numbers proved to be statically significant and weren’t what the team expected to find.
“We were shocked,” said study lead author Esha Hansoti, MD, who conducted the research at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and a psychiatry resident at Zucker Hillside Hospital Northwell/Hofstra in Glen Oaks, New York. The findings were reported at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
Hansoti and colleagues said they unveiled the research “in light of sparse research into Asian American mental health,” She said, “Even within this population, mental illness tends to be overlooked and discussion of the topic may be considered taboo.”
The researchers also took a look at the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is distributed biennially by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Data was pulled by more than 13,000 participants in grades 9-12. A weighted bivariate analysis of 618 Asian American adolescents was performed and several groups had a statistically significant higher risk of ideation, including victims of sexual assault and those bullied at school, among others. Gay lesbians and bisexuals also showed sharply higher rates of suicidal ideation than their heterosexual counterparts.
Even those who didn’t get high grades were at increased risk. Previous research has shown that shame and stigma contribute significantly to Asian American suicide rates. Hansoti noted that Asian Americans face the pressures to live up to the standards of being a “model minority.” In addition, “very few Asian American adolescents are taken to a therapist, and few mental health providers are Asian Americans.”
She urged fellow psychiatrists “to remember that our perceptions of Asian Americans might hinder some of the diagnoses we could be making. Be thoughtful about how their ethnicity and race affects their presentation and their own perception of their illness.” She added that Asian Americans “may experience mental illness and anxiety more somatically and physically than emotionally.”
Anne Saw, PhD, associate professor of clinical-community psychology at DePaul University, Chicago, said the findings are “helpful for corroborating other studies identifying risk factors of suicidal ideation among Asian American adolescents. Since this research utilizes the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, these findings can be compared with risk factors of suicidal ideation among adolescents from other racial/ethnic backgrounds to pinpoint general as well as specific risk factors, thus informing how we can tailor interventions for specific groups.”
She added, “Psychiatrists should understand that risk and protective factors for suicidal behavior in Asian American adolescents are multifaceted and require careful attention and intervention across different environments.”
It is important to note the authors say racial tensions that have flared amid the coronavirus pandemic and fears of the virus originating in China had nothing to do with the self-reported numbers. The team believes the findings are independent of the current state of the world.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, with 45,979 deaths in 2020. This equates to about one death every 11 minutes.