Special: my story on the stigma, shame of Asian American youth suicides

In a special to the Gazette, Sarah Yee shares her thoughts on her identity and mental health.


photoillustration by Sarah Yee

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2021 suicide was the leading cause of death for AA and NHPI youth.

No one ever explicitly told me not to talk about my mental health, as an Asian American, but the omission was enough. 

The statistics indicate the urgency that these “talks” need to happen: aggregated, suicide is the first leading cause of death among Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander youth (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021). Even before the world reeled from COVID-19, AA and NHPI mental health disparities were evident. When broken down by race, suicide is the leading cause of death among Asian American young adults aged 15-24 in a 2017 CDC report.  This is true of no other racial group in this age range in America (CDC, 2017).

It took me a beleaguered and uncomfortable month to share my story; the sixteen strings and stanzas represent my journey through mental health.


I weave into this tangled textile 

strand for sixth generation, chorus a string, stories

of Chinese Americans sloped across California’s golden “Gam Saan” hills 

carpeted cascades bearing gold interlaid between red, white and blue 

within these folds, sound the promissory notes of the American dream

resounding through the glistening valleys, bridging the bleeding 

tumbling tourniquet, tournament, trials 

long winded dials, love letters to home 



my culture is not a curse

my name will not jest on your lips in a cursed verse

inverse my identity, Chinese or American 

chart the changes delta x over delta y through the ages
independent variable-my identity 

dependent variable- my irrational individuality

are these Ds on my transcript, accented accidents of defiance or desperation?

slope steepens towards salvation 

I pitch forwards on an incline, dangling string in tandem by country’s threadbare design



the chime, times have changed their tune

too late to realize, too invested to go home 

what glistens gold bleeds cold 

harken epidemic of expulsions

hear marginalization of myths

our stories written over our mouths-are we a myth, myths?

closed captions over our academic records

main attractions, main detractions

licenses of our identity, licensure to the amenities of America 

past the expedited speeding limit

something or someone does not belong on this gold gilded highway

to drive or to drive out

such animosity pierces the first string of my story 

cut the cord




Asian American voices



present prescience of pulmonary embedments 

string in my lungs, stifling 

Scapegoats and slander reek of political pandering 

scrape to history, setting default-projectile virus

festering fight or flight within ambivalent amygdala 

so cues presidential popularity issues

take them up with your tissues 

soak white carpets of cotton

snow blanket these red, white and blue hills 



ply pandemic pressures to pulp 

epidemic encroaches upon 2020 vision

murky in blotted out investigative, journalistic questions

masterclass musing

reigning principle 1: do good journalism

2:  AP- Answer the Prompt

Chinese or American? exclusive, both, none?

check mark in all of the above?

as I hum to the hymn of headlines, hate hurting and healing 

mangled motley of microaggressions falling 

flailing familial frontlines, punctuated in pepper spray

accented in supermarket English

two tongues, aisles forked in two 

universal signs cue; shop, stay in your own lane.

enduring quarantined contagions entice my shame 

fester in my name, the arduous answers

not American enough 

not Chinese enough 

a girl who in every contortion to conform still misses the modeling mark

final mark: not enough.



Asian academic fails 

blooms red kite tails, trails across my 

fabric laced in letters, Ds, I can’t send home

math exams grant master classes, class keys to my 

closet of consolation, publicity speaks

emblazoned in desperatory, declaratory acts 

I stamp, red into a colonial war

peace accords I grasp and grimace under the table 

the parents are talking


all locked arms, faces and doors with no keys 

key to readability, indicators of ease

internal pleas, please



I wish I could do the math 

calculate the extremas of my daily dissection 

where is the limit? 

I ponder my priorities 

American amenities shot through gold

unfulfilled Freudian monstrosities 


DNE-does not exist.



16th warrior wielding Olivia Rodrigo lyrics 

strung through wired ears, pulsing fleeting, fiery questions

where’s my insert obligatory expletive teenage dream? 


 I don’t feel 16. 


I feel like a string, wavering under the wind

 bridged over teenaged and childhood between

adult identification timeline unforeseen

attempting to rewind back the time, lingering, longing finds 



24 hour alarm awash alcohol over my I.D. 

caustic, causes water recession 

retention over middle school recollections 

I shudder in successions, lament the questions 

moving, choosing, losing 

meanderings to call home here 




lost keys and responsibilities trend

ties to my wallet 

letting, leaving sirens pinging down the stairwell 

well buried in solemn stones, coins dropped by weary, worried well fishers, full time wishers 

etched in my name, my face, my blame 

moon of disappointment never wanes



I step onto the wrestling mat

diss appointed on opponent myself 

uniform an untrue red white and blue

bound by a slipping grip

have patience, putts quick 

in slide and dice, die on dial  

wedging every course appearance

within rounds of record court trials

rough not the fair way, follow through 

where the ball lies on tufts of iron 

tightened tee off kelter 

club-clawing conscience pressurized in melter 

mush, much ado about mistakes 

hole in one game of life 

sweeps my feeble strings, swings in strife



table talks more like expository walks 

life stories in rarely conversed languages

past heritage and present privilege framed, inflamed 

in my prerogative-heat the pressure cooker

that inflames, drafts my name

in designatory lock and block rafts, echo “emails I can’t send,” 

I too, confess Sabrina Carpenter and other album compilation confrontations 

following the cacophonous symphony of explaining 

emotions to artists crafted, conditioned to stigma 

interlace “mental illness,” with “personal problems,” 

imply privacy is a requisition not a permission 

commissions of confidentiality denied

tried and trues paths-deep outer and inner room cleans, sleep solutions prescribed 

hissed keep this in the “confines,” 

cold case dismissed, 16 year practiced linguist needs no lists 

follow your proclamatory guidelines 

you’ll be fine.


face planted face palms 

fall, felling rigid hands of red 

caught red handed in a tumbled web 

of threads, reworked seams of self 

through the looking glass, who am I? 

a girl, slipping down the rabbit hole

I spy the world, a golf ball in one hand, pen in the other 

where do I lie, to what claim do I testify? 



advocate or hyphenated hypocrite 

paying toll in trigger terms- exit then enter depression, anxiety 

trepidation  to speak the “s word”-suicide?

toast to this intersection of identity, past and the present 

loft looms picturing myself, the victor 

having nimbly traversing the spider’s lair 

or spun into fodder, caught in the crosshairs 

lying carpetless-red, white, blue and gold stripes stripped to the standard mold 

seeking- Asian American youth mental health evaluation


game of among us, entrusts another statistic on a long list 

needling, never published 

my respect rusts



pain as I explain 

eyes veiled in disdain 

at the place I occupy, weather non dependent 

hot-lines chill cold calls

name misplaced in shivering scrawl

I am not your expectation at all.



phone pressed against ear, I squeak to speak 


fine line strains in a side bend

arcs lopsided across generations and the gaps between 

bring warmth to the huddled figure

blanket her in the memories quilted in 

the hurt, the hope, the healing, the simultaneous rewind and reeling 

I hear, don’t question the resurgence, only recall resplendence of sensational feeling 


like light let through a shadow box 

I press my inked hands, shade words of worth

16 strands intertwined in geometric

aesthetic, blistering perception of personal and my people’s history

arithmetic, academic muddled, meaningful transcriptions, role play rejections

slowly thread the reddening needle through self reflections, circular community affection

I rise at this inflection, state to release the weight

16 strings too many.


I find most Asian American youth are not able to break down the barriers that encircle them because those in their closest circle-their families-are not truly within that circle.  It’s up to our society both inside and outside the “circle” of close community to amplify the voices we need to bridge barriers. And it’s up to people, particularly Asian American youth like me, to stitch the strings of our stories into a singular strand as impactful as we deserve.