Issue of suicide surfaces among Indo-Guyanese in NY

Stabroek News
June 17, 2003

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(Newsday) The recent suicides of two young people spurred Indo-Caribbean leaders in Queens, New York to hold a public forum earlier this month to discuss parent-child issues in their community.

The Guyanese community in Richmond Hill was rocked by news that a well-known dance instructor, 23, killed herself in May over academic troubles, said Tara Singh, who runs the Guyana Youth Corps in the community.

“It was like an earthquake hit the community, but not even the Richter scale could measure the pain the community felt,” said Singh, an organizer of the forum.

The issue of suicide came up again after a 17-year-old high school student killed herself a few weeks ago, apparently after a breakup with her boyfriend, community leaders say.

The two suicides highlight the need for open dialogue, community leaders said. The forum was expected to discuss alternatives available to tackle culture-specific problems among young people of Asian-Indian ancestry from the Caribbean.

Richmond Hill is home to a large number of immigrants of Indian origin. Most come from Guyana, with smaller numbers coming from Trinidad, other Caribbean nations or directly from South Asia.

Dr. Agnelo Dias, clinic administrator at the Asian Outreach Program of Queens Child Guidance Center in Elmhurst, says suicide among young South Asians is more common than many mental health professionals realize.

Although Dias said no studies are available of suicide among South Asians, he thinks parent-child conflict over cultural values are at the core of many suicides.

“Our children in America live in two worlds, one is the world of the parents and one is the outside world,” he said.

For example, immigrant parents often make sacrifices to start a new life in the United States and support their children’s education. In return, their expectations are high - sometimes too high, he said.

Dias said suicide and related issues among South Asians have not received the same attention as mental health problems affecting whites, blacks and Latinos when it comes to funding programmes.

The forum “Life is a Divine Gift” featuring panels with youths, parents and experts sought to tackle the issue with guidance from religious leaders of the Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths, said Singh, as well as mental health experts.

It was held under a tent at Open Ground, Liberty Avenue, Richmond Hill, and was free and open to all.

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