Archive for May, 2014

A Hidden Tragedy: Mental Illness and Suicide Among Asian Americans

A Hidden Tragedy: Mental Illness and Suicide Among Asian Americans

What do Jiwon Lee, Kevin Lee, and Andrew Sun have in common? Sadly, they are three Asian Americans college students who killed themselves in high-profile cases in April at prestigious universities.

Kevin Lee, (no relation to Jiwon,) a sophomore at Boston University studying biomedical engineering, was found dead in his dorm room. Andrew Sun, also a sophomore studying economics at Harvard, jumped to his death in Boston. Jiwon Lee, a dental student at Columbia University left a note that said “not living up to expectations.” Her body was found in the Hudson River.

According to the American Psychological Association, using the year 2007 as case study, suicide “was the second leading cause of death for Asian-Americans aged 15-34.” The website ReAppropriate, which advocates for Asian American concerns, estimates that the three students who killed themselves are part of about 150 college-aged Asian Americans who will die by suicide this year.

Stanley Sue, a professor of psychology and Asian-American studies at the University of California at Davis who has studied suicide rates among Asian Americans, believes part of the problem is that Asian Americans are not likely to talk about their psychological problems.

“Community practitioners notice that Asian Americans are less likely to self-disclose their personal problems,” Sue told Time magazine in 2008.

That attitude hasn’t changed. Asian Americans are also less likely than other groups to rely on mental health services, according to studies, and many prefer instead to rely on culturally acceptable traditions of discipline and family order as a way to solve their problems.

Two years ago, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “asked Asian American high school students if they had seriously considered suicide during the past year, 19 percent answered yes, compared to 16 percent of all high school students.”

According to Katherine Kam, a journalist who writes on Asian American mental illness, Asian American teens become depressed for various reasons. “Family conflicts and academic failure loom large,” she reported, “but some have a family history of depression, which might make them genetically vulnerable.”

It doesn’t help that Asian parents often reject professional diagnoses of their children’s depression and mental health. “They fear that any mental problems will reflect badly on their son or daughter, as well as tarnish their entire lineage,” Kam noted.

Many, especially if they are immigrants from countries where mental illness is considered low priorities in health care, and where treatments are scant or non-existent, believe they can overcome disorders by will power or discipline alone. Few want to admit the problems publically. Shame, in this case, often operates in a way that further isolates the persons suffering from mental disorders.

Three decades ago at UC Berkeley, a classmate of mine suffered from an episode of psychosis. A refugee from Vietnam, she stopped going to class and started talking to herself in Vietnamese, and started hallucinating. Her distraught family came and retrieved her back to their home in San Jose, California, but that family a few years later ended up in the news. Instead of having her treated for mental illness, as her conditions worsened, the family apparently had her chained at the ankle in their garage and it was where police found her.

“Southeast Asian refugees are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with trauma experienced before and after immigration to the U.S,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. “One study found that 70% of Southeast Asian refugees receiving mental health care were diagnosed with PTSD.”

Asian women, according to the study, also lead in the highest suicide rate amongst all ethnic groups in the US. So much so that Chinese American comedienne Kristina Wong wrote a play about depression and suicide called Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to talk about depression and the silence that surrounding mental illness in her own community. “A curious thing happened when I announced in 2005 that I was ‘working on a show about depression and suicide,'” she recently told XO Jane. “A lot of women came out of nowhere to tell me that they had been depressed and contemplated suicide. These were total strangers who found me by email — college professors and women I had known as professionals, all telling me things I had not imagined could be shared.”

“Not living up to expectations,” was the note that Jiwon Lee left behind. It says more than intended.

One of the biggest factors for Asian Americans is the kind of pressure many students put on themselves from a very young age. Asian American communities comprised of an overwhelming number first generation from countries — about two out of three are immigrants — where education is so worshiped that not getting good grades often means failing to achieve your destiny and, thereby, failing your own and your family’s expectations. Asian American students consequently learned to measure the world and themselves solely through a pedagogic lens. In my own Vietnamese family, the unwritten rule is simple: You are how well you do in school. 

When I was a freshman at UC Berkeley, a studious Chinese student tried to jump from the Campanile tower. He was from my dorm unit. He wanted to kill himself because, well, so went the gossip, he had never gotten a B before, until vector calculus overwhelmed him. I remember the entire dorm talking about it. It took a few hours for officers to talk him down. The next year, Berkeley decided to put metal bars to prevent others from jumping.

Asian Americans typically make up 10 to 30 percent of the best colleges. Less than 6 percent of the country’s population, Asian Americans have excelled higher education in the last few decades. What’s barely explored, sadly, is the darker narrative, that subterraneous stream that runs parallel to this shining path to academic success: stress, disappointment, depression, and mental disorders.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.



Stores may have received tainted beef

Stores may have received tainted beef

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service on Wednesday named retailers in nine states that may have received tainted beef.  Two days earlier, the FSIS announced that 1.8 million pounds of ground beef products were being recalled on fears that they could be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

The federal agency named five stores in nine states. They are as follows:

— Gordon Food Service Marketplace stores in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin;

— Surf N Turf Market in Sebring, Florida;

— Giorgio’s Italian Delicatessen in Stuart, Florida;

— M Sixty Six General Store in Orleans, Michigan;

— Buchtel Food Mart in Buchtel, Ohio.

Recalled cases of beef from Wolverine Packing Company in Detroit were produced between March 31, 2014, and April 18, 2014.  Based on investigations, 11 people across four states are suspected to have been sickened by the product. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the meat is in the process of being removed from store shelves, and until that process is over, consumers should return or destroymeat that has the code EST.2574B and has a production date between March 31-April 18, 2014. The meat is sold under a variety of labels. The list released Wednesday is not final, the spokesperson said. More establishments will be added as the USDA continues an investigation. The recall was categorized by the FSIS as “Class I”: a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.

FSIS officials said in a press release the agency is continuing to work with state and federal public health partners on the investigation and provide updated information as it becomes available.

Yoga and Diversity: Size and Body Image

Yoga and Diversity: Size and Body Image

If your yoga studio makes you feel uncomfortable about your body, you’re in the wrong place. (Hint: yoga has almost nothing to do with body size.) In this episode of the Yoga and Diversity documentary series, we explore inclusiveness in the yoga community from the perspective of size and body image.


One’s first trip to a yoga studio can be an intimidating affair that leaves some feeling like the elephant in the room… literally. It doesn’t help when we’re constantly bombarded with images of skinny yogis in impossible poses, usually on a beach at sunset and often accompanied by an uplifting caption. Intentional or not, for many people, that caption translates as, “you’re too fat for yoga!”

Here’s the ironic bit: yoga has almost nothing to do with the size or shape of your body. Can you breathe? Congratulations! You are fully qualified to practice yoga.

So why is my yoga studio full of tiny contortionists? While we’re at it, why does my yoga class leave me feeling like an arthritic whale?

The Western yoga industry is obsessed with asana, the physical branch of the Eight Limbs of yoga. As a result, most yoga studios teach asana almost exclusively, which leaves most people with the belief that yoga is yet another form of physical fitness, right up there with Pilates, Zumba and (for those who remember) Jazzercise.

While shooting this documentary, we interviewed a number of people who feel uncomfortable in most yoga studios because of issues related to size and body image. Some told stories of fat shaming, derogatory comments (“It’s great that you’re trying to do something about your weight!”), teachers with no experience working with various body shapes, and good old fashioned dirty looks. As a result, the people who would benefit most from yoga are the ones who feel the least welcome.

One could argue that this works out nicely for the gigantic weight loss industry, as yoga provides another marketing channel to use negative body image to sell diet pills, lap bands and other weight loss products. It bears mentioning, however, that physical size is not directly proportional to physical health. In other words, skinny does not necessarily equal healthy, so says Dr. Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size:

“The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive ‘collateral damage’ has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health… Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat.”

The good news is that there is a growing movement of courageous and curvaceous women, both teachers and students, who are working to make yoga more accessible to a wider audience (pun intended). They are embracing the full scope of yoga to cultivate peace and compassion in their everyday lives, while sending a message to the broader community that yoga is truly for everyone.

This documentary introduces you to some of these women, who were brave enough to share their stories and offer some incredible insight into yoga and diversity from the perspective of size and body image.



8 Yoga Positions to try Before Bed

8 Yoga Positions to try Before Bed

5 Ways To Boost Happiness Naturally Without Antidepressant

5 Ways To Boost Happiness Naturally Without Antidepressant

A few years back, Harvard conducted a study to reiterate what many in the psych professionals already know – Americans are addicted to anti-depression meds. We (though not myself) pop Prozac, Celexa, Effexor, Paxil, and Zoloft pills like they are candy in an attempt to boost mood and feel better. The increase in sales of anti-depressants is up a startling 400%This pill-popping became the norm, even though clinical studies suggest there are numerous natural remedies that can help us feel better, without the pricey and life altering side-effects that many of these drugs can cause.

Indeed, many individuals can find relief from depression with simple lifestyle changes, even just dietary changes. Even the spice turmeric has been shown to treat depression better than Prozac, one of the best selling, yet least effective anti-depressants of all time. Phytotherapy Research said that not only is turmeric effective at treating depression, but it is likely more effective than some of the most common anti-depressant drugs currently on the market.

Additionally, there are several things people can do to boost their happiness levels without ever popping a pharmaceutical pill. Here are 5 potential solutions:



1. The Easiest Way to Feel Better, by Far, is to Exercise. In study after study, scientists have proven that just moving your body makes you feel better. Exercise boosts dopamine levels and oxytocin levels – two hormones responsible for happiness and love; one dampens pain, the other makes you feel ‘bliss.’ Why take a pharmaceutical drug that might cause you to have migraines or become suicidal when you can just spend 10 minutes throwing a Frisbee with your dog, or walking along a path in nature? (Spending time with your dog and being in nature also happen to boost your happiness hormones, so you can get two for the price of one!)


2. Spend Time with Friends and Family – Spending time with friends and family or even interacting with social media friends across cyber space can boost levels of seratonin and oxytocin, and even help you to live longer. We are social creatures. If you’ve been hiding in your house and not interacting with other people, consider volunteering, attending a social gathering, or even going on a date. Your better mood is waiting on this action.


3. Get Outside – New York-based naturopathic doctor Alan Logan, co-author (with Dr. Eva Selhub, an internal medicine physician) of Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitalitybelieves that the energy from mountains, trees, plants and water can improve your sleep and mental outlook. You don’t have to abandon city life, but try to find trees, natural reservoirs of water, birds, flowers – anything that is natural. Your health and happiness depends on it .


4. Sleep More – Our circadian rhythms are absolutely vital to good mental health. Circadian cycles are our bodies’ way of regulating a host of hormones that are responsible for everything from keeping us alert when we should be to helping us to relax in stressful situations. Lost sleep can even age your brain significantly over time, while more sleep will improve mood just about every single time. Try it. You look tired.


5. Improve Your Diet – Foods for depression can be much more effective than a bottle of junk made by Big Pharma. That saying – you are what you eat – is true. If you eat tons of refined sugar, unhealthy fats, and no ‘living foods’ like organic fruits and vegetables, you will look and feel…not so great! You need high levels of B12, found in fish and eggs, to increase neuronal communication between ‘good’ brain pathways, fiber to avoid spikes in blood sugar and insulin which can lead to depression, folate to keep your brain bathed in cerebrospinal fluid, iron to make sure your blood can transport oxygen, iodine to lower depression and increase memory, calcium to lower anxiety and curb depression, and much more. Try leafy greens, nuts, and foods high in Omega 3s to get an immediate happiness boost.


Credits: Christina Sarich of Natural Society, where this was originally featured.


10 habits that damage the kidneys

10 habits that damage the kidneys

HIV and Problems With Your Periods

HIV and Problems With Your Periods

Many women, including women who do not have HIV, experience menstruation woes. HIV can cause changes in your menstrual periods. If you are experiencing any of these menstrual problems, let your doctor know.

  •       Heavy bleeding
  •       Very little bleeding
  •       Light bleeding (spotting) between periods
  •       Missed periods
  •       More than three months between periods
  •       Severe premenstrual syndrome


HIV may cause changes in your period because of the way the virus affects your immune system, which is your body’s defense system. Changes in your immune system can affect hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These hormones control your periods. The more active your HIV, the more likely you are to have problems with your period.

Your heavy periods could also be due to your HIV drugs. Having HIV can affect your periods in less direct ways too, through:

  •       Stress
  •       Weight loss
  •       Anemia
  •       Poor nutrition
  •       Infections

You may have spotting or heavy bleeding if you have the human papillomavirus (HPV). You are more likely to have this infection if you are sexually active and have HIV.

 Other Causes of Menstrual Problems

You may have menstrual problems that are not related to HIV. In fact, many women face common menstrual problems regardless of their HIV status.

Common causes of menstrual problems include:

  •       Taking certain drugs, including over-the-counter, street, and prescription drugs
  •       Sudden weight loss
  •       Pelvic inflammatory diseases (PID), which are infections in your reproductive system
  •       Non-cancerous growths such as ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids
  •       Genital cancers, including ovarian, uterine, and cervical cancer
  •       Thyroid problems
  •       Pregnancy
  •       Menopause


What to Do About Menstrual Problems

If you’re having problems with your period, you need to find out why. It may have nothing to do with HIV, but finding the cause is important. Let your doctor know if you have heavy bleeding, bleeding between periods, or if you miss two periods in a row.

To find the cause, your doctor may:

  •       Perform a pelvic examination
  •       Test for sexually transmitted diseases
  •       Do a Pap smear to check for cervical cancer
  •       Order a blood test for hormone changes
  •       Review your drug history
  •       Use ultrasound to look for abnormal growths
  •       Take a tissue sample to look for cancer or inflammation

Stay ahead of period problems by keeping track of your periods, keeping all your doctor appointments, and getting regular pelvic exams and Pap smears. Take care of yourself by eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep.

Key Takeaways

  •       Menstrual problems are more common when you have HIV.
  •       HIV can cause changes in your period. Other menstrual problems may have causes unrelated to HIV.

Let your doctor know about all changes in your period so you can get a thorough evaluation.