Suicides Rattle Community
By Bryan Virasami
June 8, 2003

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The recent suicides of two young people have spurred Indo-Caribbean leaders in Queens to hold a public forum Sunday to discuss parent-child issues in their community.

The Guyanese community in Richmond Hill was racked by news that a well-known dance instructor, 23, killed herself in May over academic troubles, said Tara Singh, who runs the Guyana Youth Corps in the community.

"It was like an earthquake hit the community, but not even the Richter scale could measure the pain the community felt," said Singh, an organizer of the forum.

The issue of suicide came up again after a 17-year-old high school student killed herself a few weeks ago, apparently after a breakup with her boyfriend, community leaders say.

The two suicides highlight the need for open dialogue, community leaders said. The forum will discuss alternatives available to tackle culture-specific problems among young people of Asian-Indian ancestry from the Caribbean.

Richmond Hill is home to a large number of immigrants of Indian origin. Most come from Guyana, with smaller numbers coming from Trinidad, other Caribbean nations or directly from South Asia.

Dr. Agnelo Dias, clinic administrator at the Asian Outreach Program of Queens Child Guidance Center in Elmhurst, says suicide among young South Asians is more common than many mental health professionals realize.

Although Dias said no studies are available of suicide among South Asians, he thinks parent-child conflict over cultural values are at the core of many suicides.

"Our children in America live in two worlds, one is the world of the parents and one is the outside world," he said.

For example, immigrant parents often make sacrifices to start a new life in the United States and support their children's education. In return, their expectations are high - sometimes too high, he said.

Dias said suicide and related issues among South Asians have not received the same attention as mental health problems affecting whites, blacks and Latinos when it comes to funding programs.

The forum will tackle the issue with guidance from religious leaders of the Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths, said Singh, as well as mental health experts.

The forum, "Life is a Divine Gift," will feature panels with youths, parents and experts. It will begin at 2:30 p.m. under a tent at Open Ground, 104-04 127th St., at Liberty Avenue, Richmond Hill. It is free and open to all.

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