As a Bhutanese refugee coming of age in Pittsburgh in the 2010s, I often heard of death. Death that happened to people — self-inflicted. I found myself on the periphery of the mental health crisis that seemed to have engulfed our community, though it was rarely talked about. Whispers of death everywhere.
I remember hearing stories from my parents about the man who hanged himself in his three-bedroom apartment or about the funeral my mother attended for her co-worker’s spouse who had taken his life. And it was often his life. It seemed to me that they were almost always men. Most importantly, it seemed like this is just how things were, a matter of fact.
It also seemed like a distant problem. I wasn’t particularly close to any of the victims. I was a teenager. The funerals were for people who were in their 30s or 40s. To me, 40 seemed like centuries away. I paid no mind to it; my job was to be a student.
Until, one day, it touched a little too close to home.
On what seemed like a regular fall day, near our apartment complex in Baldwin Borough, a body was found hanging from a tree. My dad told us early in the morning. He told me first, and then he told my older brother who had been friends with the young man since we had become neighbors some five years before. They went to school together, they ate together, they traveled all over the city together. My experience was a passing one. I knew him through my brother. But I still knew him. And now he was dead.
His death was part of a wave of tragedies in Bhutanese refugee communities that cut across class and age lines, most acutely affecting men.
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