In January 15 2015, I wrote an article: Emotional Health, reflecting on two Chinese international students who committed suicide during their second year of school. The two students were Yuan Yuan, and Guo Yanjun. Yuan, a young woman in her early 20’s from Nangjing China, was in her second year of an economics degree at Amsterdam University. Guo, a 28 year old, who immigrated to America in 2001, graduated with an Honors BSc in 2006, worked in investment banking in New York, then registered at MIT, majoring in management – a journey much admired by many Chinese families.
Unfortunately, on January 27, 2015, another 20 year old Chinese international student named Wang Lu Chang a math major at Yale University, was successful in her suicide attempt. These young students all exhibited excellent academic performance records, hard work, and were achievement driven; in the eyes of an outsider, they all would have a bright future. While we are sadly mourning these young lives, it also causes us to question: What kind of pain was so heavy that it caused them to choose to end their own life?
My previous article looked at this issue from an emotional health perspective; I thought it was the taboo of depression, suicidal thoughts and loneliness that blocked them from seeking help. It was the negative emotions that confounded their thoughts and their mobility, blocked their view to finding a way out; since most people see vulnerability as shame. Neither failure nor misfortunes are supposed to be disclosed or shared with others, even with family members. Lacking the knowledge and skills to deal with negative emotions becomes an obstacle to reaching out and asking for help.
Then, recently, I have come to realize that there could be a deeper reason for their taking their own lives: lack of Self – Esteem. In order to learn new knowledge and skills, they first have to believe in themselves and trust that there is a way out, and are willing to try. Without confidence and beliefs, they would not reach out. Even if the resources are there, they won’t be able to recognize and seize it.
Continue reading *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
There are many things that influence our well-being, but family culture is one of the most important factors determining mental and emotional health. The protective factor of having close family nearby to help you, to give advice, to guide or even to set you right, can be like an oak tree: solid, comforting and shady with deep roots that help keep you anchored. Sometimes it can be grandma’s understanding nod or smile, a sibling’s moral support or a parent’s quiet presence that helps you stay psychologically hardy. Turning towards loving family can be a buffer when facing difficult life situations and sometimes an effective enough alternative to psychotropic medications. The latest research on addictions treatment also points to strong family support as an indicator for successful rehab therapy, over-riding the significance of chemical hooks. People who enjoy this extra cushioning stay resilient and don’t need counselling.
On the other hand, sometimes living close to family can be emotionally taxing as boundaries are crossed (or never even established), and autonomy and independence may be hard to uphold. Relationships can become rigid and dry; managing family interactions can be like scaling the thorny, hollow limbs of a cactus tree. The sting of a perfectionist parent’s demanding expectations or a narcissistic spouse can result in feelings of low self-worth, unmanageable stress, anxiety and depression. Childhood emotional neglect causes long-term feelings of emptiness, an inability to prioritize one’s own needs, and shallow relationships. Many of my counselling clients present with these symptoms, and more than half the time they have to deal with deeply rooted family issues. When family values are embedded in a client’s worldview, internal feelings of self-loathing, blame and shame add layers to the problem, while clients from an individualistic culture often find it easier to detach and move on when faced with family conflict.
Family can be a stabilizing or a destructive factor. When clients talk about their oak tree, I invite family members to the session and involve them in counselling strategies – this usually helps. And when the client’s problem is aggravated by a cactus, we look for alternative positive relationships and activities, with more emphasis on problem- solving and self-soothing skills. The course of therapy and treatment planning is determined by whether the family is protective like an oak tree or thorny like a cactus. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA
Reflections on the Suicides of Chinese International Students
Recently stories about two Chinese international students committing suicide circulated on Chinese We-Chat. Both students were regarded as excellent students in the eyes of their parents and the others: they were outgoing, active in the community and academically driven. So what led to this tragedy? Who should take the responsibility? What are the causes? And what can we learn from those tragic?
Such questions linger in the minds of parents, friends, teachers and many others- we want answers. Some people may blame the family’s lack of parenting education, some may blame society’s ideology around success and some may blame the victim for not being tough enough.
Case one: YuanYuan from Nangjing China, committed suicide in Feb 2009. She was a second year economics student at Amsterdam University. The three notes she left behind disclosed: “I am so, so tired. For the last eight years I have been trying to calm down the upheaval of inner turmoil; when it hits me I felt so helpless. Sometimes I have to endure and wait for the turmoil to fade and recover slowly. Life is so busy; I simply do not have time to deal with it anymore. I cannot sense any joy in life, and life itself has become unbearable. I am really tired of this.” She also disclosed that she had battled with OCD for the last eight years.
This case was brought to the limelight by Yuan Yuan’s mother. In her mother’s eyes, her daughter was very considerate, independent, warm hearted, decisive and academically driven- a person who had always presented herself as positive and cheerful. The death of her daughter devastated the mother, what had gone wrong? As a teacher herself she asked what can be done to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.
Case two: Guo Yanjun, 28, immigrated to America in 2001, graduated with an Honors BSc in 2006, worked in investment banking in New York, then registered at MIT (麻省理工学院),majoring in management – a journey much admired by many Chinese students. *The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA