A grassroots organization on the Lower East Side is working hard to reduce the high rate of suicide in the Asian American community, and for the first time in years, they believe they are making progress due to the highly publicized suicide of soldier Danny Chen. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report as part of NY1's Asian American Heritage Week.
Just days ago, Peter Yee was in Washington to witness history: the first special White House briefing on Asian American mental health issues and suicide prevention.
A mental health expert on the Lower East Side, Yee said it was long overdue.
"There are many Chinese sayings. One of them is that, 'I would rather measure for a coffin than to see a psychiatrist,'" Yee said.
Because of the stigma associated with mental health, Yee is leading a grassroots effort to encourage Asian Americans in distress to get help.
Yee is the Assistant Executive Director of Hamilton Madison House, which offers comprehensive behavioral health services.
"We are taught not to voice our problems," Yee said. "Matter of fact, complaining is a sign of weakness."
Yee said the highly publicized death of Danny Chen, a 19-year-old Army Private from Chinatown who killed himself in Afghanistan in 2011 after being bullied, was a wake up call for many.
"When Danny was victimized, that came about in a way that most of us felt in our lives," Yee said. "It just became real."
"In general, I think we are definitely doing a great job in helping this population," said Yi Wang, a therapist.
According to the American Psychological Association, suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death for Asian Americans. That's the highest among all racial groups combined.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control found that elderly Asian American women have the highest suicide rate among females of any racial or ethnic group: 6.5 per 100,000 people.
"One of the most common themes about people who commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide is that they don't want to be a burden to their family," Yee said.
Yee said the White House briefing revealed that many Asian Americans do not seek help because it's difficult to find appropriate services, and many recent immigrants are uninsured and do not have access to treatment.
But the staff at Hamilton Madison House said they are firmly committed to help their clients, because not taking action can be life-threatening.
To learn more, visit www.hmhonline.org.