Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives
Tue 08 Mar 2005
Iris Chang and the stigma of mental illness in Asians
Category : world
Associated Press/Mercury News (registration required); NEWARK, Calif. - "Iris Chang's family thinks the best-selling author's Nov. 9 suicide could have been averted if mental illness did not have such a strong stigma in the Asian-American community.
Making their first public comments since the 36-year-old author of "The Rape of Nanking" died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Chang's parents and brother spoke at a fund-raiser for a Northern California nonprofit that works to raise mental health awareness among Chinese-Americans.
They described Chang's shame after she suffered a breakdown and was diagnosed with "brief reactive psychosis" and possibly bipolar disorder, recalling how she asked them not to reveal her condition to other relatives or friends and resisted taking medication.
"What's so powerful about the stigma of mental illness that someone would want to take the knowledge of their illness to the grave with them?" her brother, Michael Chang.
Ying-Ying Chang, the author's mother, said she wished they had refused to honor Iris' request and been more open about what she was going through. After her daughter took her own life, leaving behind a husband and a 2-year-old son, people she had known volunteered that they had struggled with mental illness, too.
"In Asian culture, it's considered shameful to have some mental patient in your family," she said. "But mental illness is a disease, a chemical imbalance in the brain. We should treat it just like a heart attack or diabetes."" [link]
Chang had never shown signs of illness until she suffered a breakdown during a trip to Louisville, Ky., said her father, Shou-Jin Chang. He said she had not slept for three nights and was physically exhausted.
He said she was diagnosed with ``brief reactive psychosis'' and possible bipolar disorder, and was prescribed anti-psychotic medication.
At first, he said, his daughter seemed to respond well to treatment. But she never really believed she was sick, he said, and it was a struggle to get her to take her medication. After her death, the family learned that ``she did not confide in her psychiatrist about her inner thoughts,'' Shou-Jin Chang said.
He added that more research is needed on the effects of anti-depressant drugs on people of Asian descent, who may have different reactions or need different doses.
Asked if the depressing subject matter of her books might have triggered his daughter's mental illness, Chang said it was ``certainly a contributing factor,'' but added that he did not know how important it was. [link]