青春美丽，阳光灿烂, 我为什么想自杀？ (1)
Young and pretty, sunny and bright, why did I want to commit suicide?
Young and pretty, sunny and bright, using these words to describe the headshot for my blog，without any customary modesty, I hope the title will attract your attention. Beauty is a resource. Not properly utilizing it is a disservice to my parents who gave it to me. Hopefully, after getting you to click on this blog post, my words will hold your attention to the end. I hope to get Chinese parents to face the problem of youth mental health issues directly. Mental illness problem is certainly not limited to Chinese youth. But this issue is often a blind spot for Chinese parents. And this problem is quite prevalent in Chinese youth.
A few weeks ago, a twenty year old student from China committed suicide. There were a lot of discussions on depression on Chinese language forums and blogs. Some promoted proactive dialog with kids. Others stated that it is important to avoid letting children take on life’s challenges too early. Still others criticized the excess pressure Chinese style education placed on the youth. These blogs and discussions were all positive effort for bring attention to mental health problems among Chinese youth.
The focus of the these discussions were mostly about the effect of external pressure on the mental health of the youth. Actually, external pressure is only one factor of the youth mental illness. It is an important factor. But if discussions were mostly limited to this one factor, it may lead people to believe that the problem is easy to solve. All we have to do is to reduce pressure on our youth.
Therefore, I am going to speak about my own experience as a twenty year old youth. From another angle supplement the discussion on this topic, thereby advance the understanding of the mental issue in the Chinese community.
I have an interest on the topic , because I struggled with depression in my youth. I was so depressed I actually contemplated committing suicide, a short while after taking this sunny picture. Although by luck I survived, I had a family elder who did commit suicide. My children also have friends with family members who took their own lives.
I have been afraid to write about this topic. For one, this is a very private matter that I have not told my family. How can I start talking about it in public? Even when I gathered up enough nerve to write, I was worried that I would mislead people if I don’t get it right. That would result in the opposite effect,.
Finally, I decide to write about it, after reading some blog postings and the comments following the postings, There were quite a few erroneous perceptions about mental illness in youth in these discussions. These misperceptions are not conducive for Chinese parents to understand and help the their children with mental illness. I am not a professional in this area, but I can talk about what a mental illness feel like in an effort to correct some of the misperceptions.
These are some common misperceptions I have seen on the Chinese language forums:
First, mental illness is not a real illness, at least depression does not count as illness. Inevitably, people will run into some situations that he or she not happy about. All one has to do is to look past it to get over it.
Those who do not think depression is an illness probably have never been afflicted with mental illness themselves . If they did, it was not severe. They will find people to talk things over when they run into a bad situation, They believe that seeking professional treatment is something Caucasians do. Chinese have no need for professional help as we have lots of family and friends.
Second, mental illness is a result of external factors. Those with mental issues are either under too much pressure, or run into some adversities in life. The external stimulation caused mental problem.
Those who thinks mental illness come from external factors promote changing the external environment. From their standing point, reducing pressure is most paramount. They believe that the pressure from unrealistic expectation of Chinese parents is the direct cause for youth depression. This problem of youth mental illness can be solved by changing the Chinese educational style and reducing the pressure on the children
Third, people with mental illness has diminished mental capacity. Those with mental issues either have a fragile psyche, or are just too sensitive. May be they are just less able to deal with pressure. They are depressed because they encountered challenges which they can not handle, such as failing at school, work or life.
The stigma associated with mental illness, and the prejudice against mental illness patients, especially patients with depression, is most unhelpful for diagnosis. The mentally ill and their families will be busy trying to find solution to the practical problems in life, not even thinking about looking for physiological reasons for the underlying psychological problem.
I know these are are misconceptions and prejudices, because I have real experiences with psychological problems.
More than thirty years ago, I was still a foreign student from China, in my second year in college. I seriously considered taking my own life. I never mentioned this to anyone until a few months ago. A young friend of mine was struggling with mental health issues. I remembered how lonely and helpless I felt when I was young and decided to tell it to him. I wanted to let him know he was being loved, and encouraged him to seek professional help and treatment。
I am not a weakling. This can be observed from my blog postings and discussions in the political forums. I have my own opinions and are not afraid to express them. At the tender age of sixteen, I came to the United States from China all by myself， to live with a relative whom I had never met. I went to school, got a job, got married and raised children. I am not a person without courage and capabilities. To accomplish all these, I had help from my relatives, support from my husband. But mostly I relied on myself. This is not boasting. I simply wanted to say that depression has nothing to do with personal character deficiencies or the situations at hand.
Yes, I had a lot of pressure when I was a twenty years old. I didn't know anything about American life prior to coming here, as China was just coming out of an era of total isolation. My English language’s foundation was weak, especially in listening and writing. Liberal arts classes were especially hard. My math was not bad. I got close to a perfect score on ACT’s Math portion relying on I learn in middle school in China. But the higher level it gets in engineering school, the more difficult it was. I was also working part time to earn my tuition and living expenses while I was a full time college student. The pressure I had to deal with were more than most of the students today who had family support .
But some of these pressures I put on myself. I clearly understood that I could get married and live an easy life if I can not make it on my own. It is not that I was too proud that I must struggle by myself, I justed wanted to enjoy the fun and freedom my youth had brought.
Actually, I was not alone and without any assistance. I had my relatives to lean on at home, and the graduate students from China to help at school. The graduate students at the time not only had attended the top colleges in China, but also had life experiences from working before attending college. There were very few students from China in those days, and we all knew each other. The older graduate student were like big brothers and sisters to me. If I need anything, they would extend a helping hand without me even asking. Naturally, girls in engineering school were always surrounded by admiring boys. Men and women, young and old, all I need to do is put on a sweet smile, nothing would block my way. I did not meet many people who didn’t do what I asked, neither did I encounter too many situations that make me unhappy. Like a flower blooming in the spring, with even better seasons ahead, I had no reason to be unhappy.
But during those few months, I was not happy. I was worried, sad, feeling low. Under a lot of pressure, there were some worries for sure. I don’t remember what was bothering me at the time. They were nothing really serious, otherwise, I would have remembered. But to a youth they might seem like big deals. Nevertheless, during those times, the low and sad mood, and hopelessness and lonely feeling, came to me with no reason at all.
有些把英文的depression 翻译为忧郁症，有些做抑郁症。对我来说，抑郁是更准确的描述。那些无端而来的压抑，悲伤，无法化解，挥之不去。 虽然心里明白不能让这种情绪影响工作和学习，但没有力量抗拒这抑郁的感觉。在这感觉的压迫下，有时起不了身，出不得门。
Some Chinese translation of the English word “depression” as 忧郁症，others call it抑郁症. To me, 抑郁 is a more precise description. Those feelings of depression and sadness came from nowhere, could not be dissolved, could not be brushed off. Even though in my heart I knew clearly that I could not let those moods affect work and study, but I had no strength to fight the depressed feeling. Under the weight of these feelings, sometimes I could not get up and get out of door.
忍受不了这让我窒息的压抑，我把自绝的方案准备好了, 穿戴整齐，一根绳子。 但最终不能下手，因为舍不得我父母。我不是完全的生无可恋，我惦念着我远在中国的父母亲。或许那时我的抑郁症还没严重到让我完全地失去理智。我担心自绝于世会让我父母亲心碎了，我也知道我父母亲会为此备受指责。
When I could no longer deal with the depression which was suffocating me, I started thinking about how to take my own life. Put on clean cloth, with a rope, that was my plan. But in the end I could not do it. Because I could not bear the thought of my parents left in this world for people to point their fingers at. I was not left without anything to live for yet. I missed my parents far away in China. Maybe my depression was not so severe to the point that I completely lost the ability to think rationally. I was afraid that my parent’s heart would be broken if I had committed suicide.
Before I left China, some people asked my mother how could she bear to let a daughter so young to travel so far? My mother said, so what if I can’t bear it? How can I not let her explore such an incredible opportunity! My parent put aside their own feelings so I could have an opportunity to a good life in a free and prosperous country. They trusted me to find my own path in this world and had confidence in that that I will succeed. I could not disappoint them.
Even though I don’t remember how I got sick, but I remember how I survived. I knew my parents love me and trusted me. Their love was so deep, in the days of snail mail, I could feel it from the other side of world. Their love saved me, even though they did not know. When I was at the lowest point, I kept telling myself: they sent out a lively daughter, they could not receive a cold ash urn in return! In those days, my parents did not have any opportunity to come to the United States to bring back my body. The love of parents was a straw at the time of my despair. Maybe it was because I held tight to this straw, that I did not drown in the flood of overwhelming sorrow.
那时不知道什么叫抑郁症，对心理疾病一无所知。亲戚已经帮我很多了，我为鸡毛蒜皮的小事发愁，这不是无病呻吟吗。学校里研究生大哥大姐们看到是一个幸运的小姑娘，穿得漂漂亮亮地和同龄的小朋友们玩得很高兴，哪会有什么忧愁。同学都和我一样，除了上课打工，就是吃喝玩乐，也没听说谁象我一样看不开。我条件这么好，却无缘无故地不开心，找人说了真会有人懂吗？ 如果到处对人说我不开心，这若放在今天，一定会被人骂: ”你有病啊!"
At that time, I did not know there is such a thing called depression. I also did not know anything about mental illness. My relatives already helped me a lot. I didn't want them to think I was whining about petty little problems. The kindly graduate students thought I was a pretty young girl with no worry at all. Unlike them who scrimped and saved for families back home, I spent money on fashionable cloth and snacks. I was busy running around having fun with friends my own age. My friends were all like me, studying and working hard , and playing even harder. I never heard anybody who worried so much about little problems like me. I had all the good things in life, but were unhappy for no good reason. Would anybody have understood it if I had told anybody? If I told people that I was unhappy, they probably would laugh at me, “you must be sick!”。
Yes, I was sick, mentally sick. But I did not understand it at the time. I did not want to tell anybody and I did not know that I should seek professional help.
I can’t remember clearly when did I started getting sick. I can’t remember when did I started getting well either. After a few months, the depressed feeling gradually lifted. This maybe due to the self healing power of the human body. When I came out of the depression, the challenges I was facing as a young foreign student were still there. Not only pressure did not lessen, as graduation became closer, there was additional pressure of looking for a job or applying for a graduate school. But the increased pressure did not lead to another episode of depression.
The sadness and despair of depression comes from within. There were physiological reasons. It is not certain that eliminating external pressure can solve it. The use of medicine as primary treatment for depression is an indication that physiological factors are behind many cases of depression. I am not a health care professional. I can not clearly explain the physiological reason for mental problems, but I know that youth mental illness are sometimes influenced by hormonal changes brought on by puberty. Not only during puberty, hormonal changes during other times in life can also lead to mental illness. For example, postpartum depression has been gaining people’s attention lately.
At the minimum, my own experience is evidence that mental illness is a real sickness, just like physiological illness. Mental illness also has physiological reasons. As to whether mental illness requires medical attention, it depends on severity of the illness, just like physiological illness. Light cases one may heal himself or herself. Severe cases must seek medical help. If the severity of the problem is not clear, it is best to seek professional help. If a person is thinking of hurting himself or herself, the depression is severe that professional help is a must.
The purpose of talking about my own experience is not to seek pity from strangers, but to help Chinese community understand what mental illness really feels like. And then in turn find ways to help youth who are mentally sick. If people don't know that psychological malaise is equal damaging to health, just as physiological illness, then they will not think of seeking professional help.
As to whether reducing stress would prevent mental sickness, I will discussed in more detail in the next post of this series.
(To be continued)