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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Culture and suicide : perspectives of first-generation Korean-Canadian immigrants Han, So Eun


Background: Suicide is a serious health concern worldwide. In 2007, almost 4,000 Canadians took their own lives and among older and middle-age groups, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for both men and women. Given the far-reaching impact on families and societies, suicide has been widely studied; yet, accounts about the connections between suicide and culture in the context of immigrant populations are still poorly understood. Objective: To better understand the connections between suicide and culture, and to provide a foundation on which to build targeted culturally-sensitive suicide prevention programs, this research used qualitative research method to describe the perception and experiences of suicide of fifteen Korean-Canadian immigrants. Results: Three inductively derived themes were identified to detail the study findings: 1) perceptions of and attitudes toward suicide among Korean-Canadian immigrants; 2) narratives around the causes and triggers of their suicidal thoughts and behaviours; and 3) manifestations of and strategies to manage their suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Within these three themes, there are a total of nine sub-themes which are intricately connected. Discussion: While recognising and embodying stigma around suicide, participants understood the hopelessness and despair that could drive immigrants toward suicide. Causes and triggers for suicidal thoughts most often emerged from academic pressures, estranged family, and dis-identities – all of which were intricately connected to participants’ immigration experiences. Noteworthy were deeply embedded Confucian values, which could exert an array of influences on Korean-Canadians. In addition, extensively discussed were dis-identity experiences whereby a sense of self and as well as collectivist familial bonds were challenged, and suicidal ideation could flow toward and/or from these changes. Many participants were unaware of mental health services and programs amid being challenged by language barriers when they did access mental health services. While, it is critical for healthcare providers to understand immigrant patients’ cultural background to fully assess their risk for suicide, also urgently needed are targeted efforts to raise public awareness about suicide and educate immigrants about professional and self-help options to manage their mental health and well-being.

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