Media Release – Suicide Among Young Women of South Asian Origin: A policy roadmap for solutions

Press Release, Immigration, Aruna Papp

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy released today Suicide Among Young Women of South Asian Origin. The study is authored by Aruna Papp. 

Prompted by her frontline work as a counselor, Papp’s discussion draws attention to the general reality and hardship of suicide propelled by cultural conflict within immigrant families. Canadians have suicide rates higher than many industrialized countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.  However, evidence suggests that suicide among young females of South Asian origin are disproportionately higher in relation to their presence in the population, in relation to their peers outside their community, and in relation to the suicide rates of the male cohort in the same cultural communities. “Young South Asian immigrant women living in Western countries,” Papp writes, “have the highest rate of suicides, attempted suicides, and other acts of self-harm compared to South Asian men and White women.” 

Yet, there is no comprehensive research to inform us of the depth of problem in Canada. It is a phenomenon that has largely escaped public attention and the attention of policy makers, and one which Canadians cannot ignore given that the South Asian population represents the second largest immigrant group in the country, and it is poised to double in numbers five years from now.

Early manifestations of suicide in the South Asian community have also been undetected or unaddressed by medical officials. In such culturally closed communities, a Canadian medical researcher finds that the early warning signs of suicide in such high risk community are more difficult to detect.

While the typical generating conditions for suicide among young people of South Asian origin still apply, there is an extra set of factors to consider that is cultural in nature.

“Girls in this demographic group face many more difficulties in their adaptation process than do boys because of the patriarchal nature of South Asian families. They often experience the full pressure in the conflict of values between home and school in the domain of personal autonomy, relationships with boys and the pursuit of their vocational aspirations. Some girls cannot cope with the psychological tension and have suffered from psychosomatic illnesses such as bulimia and anorexia, and they have attempted suicide,” Papp writes.

The purpose of Papp’s research is threefold: 1. She means to illuminate the strong correlation between cultural imperatives and elevated suicide statistics among young South Asian women in Canada; 2. She sheds light on persisting practices within South Asian culture that are quite retrograde and even barbaric in nature; and 3. She aims at establishing a benchmark for further research, programs, and policy development that will fully enfranchise young South Asian women as fully Canadian.

The paper presents a series of policy suggestions to address the question. For example, Papp writes: “Police forces across the country, especially those where there is a high concentration of South Asians, need to be trained to identify honour-based situations of abuse and to be more sensitive to them. In certain circumstances, this ability may enable police officers to distinguish and separate a case of normative domestic violence from a situation of honour-based conflict where there is more likely to be lives of women at stake.”

A copy of the policy paper Suicide Among Young Women of South Asian Origin can be downloaded HERE.