On September 6, 2017, a 15 year old Taiwanese student jumped from a 14-story building. It was confirmed as an act of suicide after the police found a note in her backpack that reads, “That’s me, don’t look for me.” The student’s last name is Wu and she went to a prestigious school in Taipei called First Girls High School.
Dr. Chang Li-Pang, principal of the school, was both shocked and devastated. For everyone at the school, no one saw any early signs before Wu committed suicide, especially since the school started a new semester five days before her death. Wu’s parents, however, revealed that their daughter most likely jumped off the building due to pressure of performing well academically. They also mentioned that as a new student, she most likely felt like she couldn’t meet the standards of the school and had difficulty with adapting to her new environment.
Suicide is prevalent all throughout China. Students as young as 13 years old have committed suicide in Hong Kong. Approximately 23 cases of suicide occur each year in Hong Kong due to academic pressure.
Anxiety and problems with impulse control and other addictions are often the leading causes of suicide. The thing, however, about anxiety, is that it’s often masked behind well-performing individuals in society. People who are polished, dutiful, and responsible —the ones you can always seem to rely on. You don’t usually see it coming, because it’s often those who need the most help that find it all the more terrifying to let others know that they are quietly suffering.
This is how things slip under the radar. Pushed and smoothed underneath the rug. Because we’re too afraid to let others down, to let ourselves down. And everything builds up until there comes a breaking point. I suggest that we all take a minute and ask the people around us every day if they are doing okay. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple question to remind us that we don’t always have to have it altogether. That we can break down and release all our tension in someone else’s arms. That we’re allowed to mess up and be the worst versions of ourselves.
The person I last dated was an overachiever. He was valedictorian of his high school and attended Ivy League schools, both for his undergrad studies and for his master’s. He loved developing a linear path to follow, planning things down to a T. We were opposites, to say the least. While he wanted to be Mr. Perfect, the inner psychologist in me just wanted to humanize him every chance I could.
He has a younger brother who is the same age as my own brother. Strangely enough, their birthdays are only a few days apart and from the way he described him to me, he sounds so much like my own brother. He told me that while his brother was in high school, he contemplated suicide, because he felt like he couldn’t compete with his older brother. Luckily, he wasn’t driven over the edge and his family made sure to offer the support he needed.
I can’t imagine my own brother taking his own life if something similar happened to him. As the oldest sibling myself, I always felt like I had to set an example, but I never wanted us to feel like we had to compete for our parents’ affection. I’m sensitive when it comes to pressure.
When my brother first started college, it was during a delicate and disastrous time when our mother was starting chemotherapy for her breast cancer. He told me how he was struggling to adapt and wasn’t sure if college was meant for him. As an older sister, I didn’t want to force him to do anything that he wasn’t comfortable with, so I let him have the power to choose what he wanted to do when he felt the most powerless.
Our mother, however, didn’t want him to stray from the academic path because she was scared that once he does, it’ll be hard for him to get back on track with it. Our mother and I both wanted what we thought was best for my brother, but we tackled the situation in two very different approaches. As a result, she wasn’t too happy with my idea of letting him take some time off from school to figure out what he wants to do in life.
It led to some ugly disagreements when I defended him every chance I had. And even though it made me feel like an outcast, I did it to protect him from succumbing to pressure. Because I understood the dangers of it, and how incredibly vulnerable we are when we first enter the stage of adulthood.
I also have a 15 year old cousin who goes to a prestigious all-boys school in Hong Kong, and he has informed me about the suicide rates amongst students. About how competitive everyone gets because a lot of their futures depend heavily on their test scores. In the end, all of that pressure divides people up instead of bringing them together during the toughest times.
We live in a world that’s obsessed with only self-improvement that we sometimes make it impossible to talk about the bad days because we’re scared of reverting back to old habits. But, it’s counterproductive and destructive in itself when we don’t expect anything less out of ourselves. We have to nurture ourselves and one another if we want to establish healthy mindsets. And that includes creating a judgment-free zone to have the difficult conversations.
It’s often the most put together people who are silently suffering the most. No amount of pressure to do better is ever worth it if it means losing a loved one. Please, if you or someone you know needs to talk, you can call the following suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.