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By Sushama Kirtikar -

The jaunty notes of holiday jingles trailing away; the unmistakable pops of champagne bottles opening on cue; the hearty ring of New Year’s greetings buzzing in the ears; the strident march of New Year’s resolutions tapping a beat; all of these signal the joie de vivre that swells up as we usher in another calendar year with zest and enthusiasm.

As we celebrate life, let us keep in mind that there are some among us who are contemplating ending life. Yes, you heard me right, ending life. They are just as significant as you and me dancing away into the wee hours of a fresh dawn. As a culture, we need to be cognizant of the fact that suicide is very much part of our fabric, however, taboo the subject may be.

Sushama Kirtikar
Two months ago, I received the dreaded call that I had hoped I would never have to handle in my profession. A previous client had committed suicide and his mother in law’s voice on my machine still echoes with a surreal quality. As miserable as I have felt, I was told by a colleague to imagine his spouse feeling 10,000 times worse. The enormity of the impact on survivors is inexplicable. Therefore, the depths of depression that drives anyone to act on suicidal thoughts must be unfathomable.

This event spurred me into researching the data of suicide rate amongst Indian Americans. I am told recorded data is non-existent but isolated anecdotes are plenty. I have found that there have been completed suicides in our own backyard, in Tampa Bay, with a striking similarity: they are spoken of in undertones, nothing above the hush of a whisper. The point is, they have occurred and we have been helpless to prevent them.

In 1999, the National Health Service’s National Service Framework for Mental Health in Great Britain identified that “among women living in England, those born in India and East Africa have a 40 percent higher suicide rate than those born in England and Wales.” The Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum announced in August 2003, “Suicide rates within the South Asian community are found to be higher than among other populations in the U.S.” According to the National Center for Health Statistics, “Asian-American women hold the highest suicide rates in the nation among women of ages 15-24, an American age category that holds the highest general suicide rates.” Journal of Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior states that “Asian students are 1.59 times more likely to seriously consider attempting suicide than their white peers.” Granted, Indian Americans make up a fraction of the Asian American population, but we are represented within these staggering statistics nevertheless.

Aruna Jha, Ph.D., professor at University of Illinois, in Chicago, spearheaded the Asian American Suicide Prevention Initiative in early 2004. Dr. Jha reports, “We are a grassroots organization that is beginning to address this issue in the pan-Asian community. We are gathering anecdotal evidence in Illinois and reports suggest that suicides are higher than the published data shows.”

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, every day, approximately 80 Americans take their own life, and 1,500 more attempt to do so. Completed suicides are reported and become public knowledge. Attempted suicides are greater in number but underreported as they are successfully wrapped in secrecy to protect the privacy of the individuals and their families. Contemplated suicides multiply further and remain an unknown entity. The challenge is for us as a collective unit to find viable means of helping those among us who have suicidal ideation. As we rejoice in the fresh perspective of a New Year, may that positive energy proliferate and touch the dark recesses of another’s torment. May it also transform into a resolve to aid those who suffer silently.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or (727) 586-0626, or e-mail at

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