Roundtables: September Recap - Suicide and How We Can Support Each Other

Hello MAFA blog readers!


There's 2 days left until we host our next roundtable, which will be surrounding the topic of how our cultural heritage plays a role in shaping our Filipinx-American Identity. In the meantime, we have a run down of the last roundtable.


The theme of September's discussion was "Suicide and How We Can Support Each Other". Joining our discussion was AJ Espinoza from the University of Michigan's FASA and Alex Banez from UW-Milwaukee's FSU. During this roundtable, we shared experiences related to mental illness and suicide, so this discussion was not broadcasted in order to keep the roundtable a safe and confidential space. Below is a recap of our discussion!

Sometimes, it is difficult for people to ask for help when they need it. How do you reach out to people when you feel concerned for their well-being? What's the best way to approach the situation?


AJ ESPINOZA: When I reach out to a friend, I like a gentle approach; I make it clear that I'm not doing it to be condescending, but to show that I'm concerned and want to help them get better. It makes them feel better knowing that someone is thinking about them, and if they don't want to talk about their problems at the moment, then at least I've opened a door for them to reach out in the future.


SARAH HIDALGO: I think a simple message, whether it's a text or a phone call, can mean a lot to the person you're trying to reach out to.


ALEX BANEZ: Coming from the side of someone who doesn't always reach out for help when should, it's kind of hard. When people seem kind of unapproachable, it does seem difficult to decide how to go about reaching out to them…


RIO VILLORIA: It is hard, a lot of times reaching out to someone can be just as difficult as asking for help. This leads us to our next prompt:


Why might it be so hard to reach out?


Alex: I guess for me, in relation to my brother's passing earlier this year, I got to experience everyone noticing my grief and reaching out to me. But even after seeing everyone's messages, it isn't the same as really reaching out to them, you know?


Rio: It's tricky, I definitely get that. Sometimes you can get a lot of messages, but I feel like a conversation is really what's needed.


Sarah: If you're on the side that is reaching out to help, you also don't really want to waste others' peoples time.


AJ: Along that same line, sometimes your problems are so big, and when you reach out to friends, it might feel like they're helping, but you know that they can't give you the exact answer that you're looking for. It's unrealistic to expect friends to give you an answer will suddenly change everything to make you feel better.


Rio: I'd just like to add that it's tiring. Dealing with grief is already draining,  physically and emotionally. And the act of reaching out to someone also takes up time and energy. I think that's something I've personally been struggling with; I know that I have these resources around me, and while I know one conversation can't fix everything, it's just that energy. Reaching out for help can feel like so much work.


So yeah! Now we have a list of reasons: sometimes, we're worried about taking up the other person's time; we feel like no one can truly relate to our situation, or we're expecting an exact answer that can fix our problems right away. And it can take a lot of energy to just reach out to someone to talk to. These are just challenges we need to think about when we need to reach out to each other.


How often do you check up on your friends that haven’t seemed heard from in a while?


Rio: You never know what people are going through; some people are really good at hiding things. Some people will seem like they're fine, then I'll catch them in a late night conversation and they'll start opening up about what they're going through.


Sarah: When you don't talk to someone everyday, it really is hard to tell how someone is really feeling. Some people use might make a "finsta" where they can vent and post how they are truly feeling, and that could give you an idea about whether or not you should reach out to them.


Rio: Yeah. I think social media can definitely be misleading at times, but it can help a little bit. I've seen folks that feel more comfortable reaching out on a private account like a finstagram. Some people might post when they don't know who to reach out to and just need a place to vent.


Alex: I agree with all of this. I personally don't reach out enough, since I've mostly been in my own world lately. To me, everyone has at least one thing that they're stressing about. I don't go out that often, but occasionally I'll ask them how they're doing if I see someone I haven't seen in a while. But I'll often resort to messaging over social media to stay connected.


AJ: I also don't feel like I reach out enough either. I’m not a big fan of texting. I'd prefer to ask in person how they're doing in a private place; it makes our interaction feel more genuine. But you also don't want to push them too much; some people don't like being asked all the time if they're doing okay. I've been in that position.


Rio: It's hard to figure out what kind of support people need and when they need it. I want to bring light to what Alex was saying–all of us are going through some difficult stuff. It can be tough to figure out when it's okay to reach out and when to give them space. I think it just comes with that experience of knowing that person. It's something that gets overlooked because you can see how someone's doing on social media, but maybe we should try to tune into how they're really feeling, especially when you can tell something has been off about them.


How does your personal background (culture, gender, upbringing, etc.) affect your beliefs and behaviors regarding mental health?


AJ:  So I grew up with 4 sisters and a single mom. Growing up that way taught me to be more open than most boys at this age are raised to be. It's interesting because when I talk to my dad about these kinds of things, he is very closed off and doesn't really share a lot of his emotions. So I can definitely see the gender differences when it comes to being open and sharing ones feelings. I think there's also that stigma, being Filipino, where it's difficult to say mental health belongs in the conversation; whether to bring it up with your family or to avoid talking about it in the first place. If that's not explicit, it at least has been implied growing up.


Sarah: That's a really good point. Mental health can often go under the radar for Filipino families because we tend to pretend everything is okay. I'm not saying that this is all Filipino families, but parents never want to hear their kids say,"oh, I'm having poor mental health". That's why I think that it can be difficult for Filipino kids to get proper treatment and reach out for the services that they need. When I saw the statistic that Asian-American college students are 1.6 x likely to commit suicide then all other races, I just thought that it really shows how important it is to address suicide and spread awareness about it, especially in this demographic.


Rio: AJ hit on a lot of different aspects and also tied it in with Filipino values, such as masculinity – the idea that men are strong and never ask for help. It's like that traditional hypermasculinity, which isn't the healthiest mindset. It isn't conducive to a healthy sense of self. I also agree with that point about needing to put up a front due to the stigma surrounding mental health. There's definitely this hesitation to talk about it within Filipino families. When I brought the topic up, my parents' first suggestion was not to tell anybody. I don't think they did it to save the reputation of our family, but so that people don't look down on me. Obviously I still told my closest friends, but it was tough not being able to talk openly about this thing I've been dealing with for months.


Alex: I feel like my story with my family is kind of different because they believed that therapy would be good for me. My whole family encouraged me to have someone to talk to, and we went through the whole doctor process and seeing if meds would be helpful. It isn't bad to talk about my mental health, and my family kind of checks up on me more. There was this one thing I've been thinking about though... When my stepmom and dad came to brother's funeral, my stepmom, who is this old-school conservative woman, kept questioning my brother's passing. Because he was always so happy and had a lot of good stuff going for him, she kept asking why he committed suicide. I feel like she didn't have a real concept of what mental illness is like, and she doesn't understand the problems that this generation goes through.


Rio: Thank you for sharing, Alex. As we've seen, everyone has different upbringings when it comes to addressing mental health. As we allow ourselves to be more vulnerable and admit that we're not okay, it kind of opens us up for more criticism as well. But just because we may think differently from others, it doesn't invalidate our own feelings. What your stepmom said may have been hurtful, but maybe she didn't understand because she's never thought much about mental illness before.


AJ: It's really unfortunate how that generation treats how suicide and depression as taboo. It's difficult for them to find the words to be supportive, but I don't know if there's a need to be insidious when they do say those kinds of comments. For example, to this day I've never told my dad's side of the family that I've been to therapy. I'm afraid that my family will not take the time to understand what I'm going through; they know it exists, but can never imagine it be their own son going through it.


Rio: In any culture where the families are closely knit, I think parents take responsibility for things that they consider failures. If their kids aren't getting good grades in school, parents might feel like they're at fault. For that reason, family can seem a bit harsher and less understanding at times in regards to mental health. They may see mental illness as a failure on their part, even though no one is in control of it. But back to what Alex was talking about, there are some families that are more accepting and willing to help you find the support that you need.


Alex: Therapy was always good for me, my siblings and my mom. I always encourage people to speak to others as an outlet about anything that's on your mind or what you're going through.


Sarah: I think everything that's been said tonight has been really good. I think this whole conversation has been therapeutic, and I think we addressed many ways that we can help each other cope with mental illness and suicide. Thank you for joining us in opening up the conversation, and helping us spread awareness about this issue! ♦

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