Are We the Bhutanese Refugees Killing Ourselves?

Please watch this video clipping before you read

The recent article titled “Bhutanese Refugees are Killing Themselves at an Astonishing Rate” reminds me of the once-much-believed misconception of the mass suicide committed by lemmings. Have we, the Bhutanese refugees, now become the new group of lemmings? Are we killing ourselves as the author claims? Apparently she thinks she has statistics to prove that we are. From a Bhutanese refugee point of view, numbers do not tell the whole story. I was reading in anticipation to finding answers to why and more so to take away some suggestions on prevention or precaution. But like she says, researches have been unsuccessful in making concrete diagnoses as to why the Bhutanese are “killing [our] selves”. Everybody seems to be focused on data and numbers, but do not seem to be looking in depth to the causes. I guess in doing so, it makes good headlines like the author uses – “Bhutanese refugees are killing themselves”. It might be a catchy phrase for her, but to me, a Bhutanese, this is offensive and I feel that this can easily lead to stereotyping. I assume that the author may not be a mental health expert, but it is presumptuous on her part to be publishing the somber condition of our community as a news article without making an effort to provide some kind of tips to the readers (unless her main target audience was intended to be the mainstream American society and she was trying to introduce the Bhutanese refugees as the new group of lemmings). If she could take time to find how many Bhutanese committed suicides, it would not have taken much effort to research some medical advice. Also, there is room in the article where she could have mentioned that Bhutanese are making enormous progress at the same time. Economic recession has not held us back and in fact, Bhutanese are improving the housing and automobile market, at least in Atlanta. One should take note of the number of houses and cars we buy, too. From a positive aspect, I would like to thank the author for bringing this issue to the limelight.

Are we the new lemmings? Lemmings migrate to overcome sudden population explosion and in their attempt to find new grounds, they have to overcome certain barriers like cliffs and ocean currents. Their little brains can render only so little intellect that they plunge from cliffs into the ocean – my human brain at many times cannot measure depth and distance, we are talking about tiny animals here (this is my own scientific explanation). We, refugees, have faced oceans of wrath and met with mountains of adversities and in our zeal to overcome these hurdles, we too have many times plunged into darkness; at least the lemmings see the horizons, but we have just thrown ourselves into the hands of the unknown. In the process, we have been killed and we have killed ourselves. Yet it should be remembered that ours is not a willing migration. We were compelled to make this move; move to seek freedom, move to seek better future and the move does not come without a price. This loss of lives is an unfortunate price that we are made to pay, willingly or unwilling. I think only a refugee knows this better. Human intelligence is a slave to human emotions especially when we are at the mercy of circumstances over which we have no control.

How much price are we still willing to pay? This is a question that we need to be asking ourselves, each one of us Bhutanese. There is no eluding from this question since this question touches every one of us. We have paid the price over twenty some years now, beginning inside Bhutan, then as we trembled our bodies across the borders, as we were emaciated in the banks of Mai Khola (river), as we baked ourselves in the heat of Jhapa, Nepal that was exacerbated by the plastic roofs of the refugee huts. And we are not stopping, even when we fully know that we have reached the land of the free where we are no longer refugees. Here we have enough rights and the possibilities of having a Bhutanese descent American President one day. Now it is time for us as a community to negotiate the price. I feel that the deal should be closed. We are done with the paying. We may never reach home, but this new land that welcomed us is our home now.  Let us come to terms that we have jumped over the cliffs and into the waters and we have survived. Let us carry this survivor mentality, and not give anyone a chance to treat us like lemmings. Let us once more show the entire world and especially to our own selves that if we survived the harshness of a refugee life that was tainted with uncertainty, we will definitely overcome the challenges of resettlement with equal resilience. As done before, let us accept the difficulties with courage and with grace – courage to learn new things in a new place and grace to accept changes. For me, I find it easier to tackle a problem by first acknowledging the problem and then accepting it as my problem and finally taking responsibility of that problem. It is very tempting to blame someone else for the problem or expect someone else to solve it, and doing so leads to too much hurt.

Is it an individual responsibility or community responsibility to try to mitigate this problem with which we are stuck? In times like this, community is intangible and an individual makes a community. So please step up, take ownership and contribute towards a solution. This writing is my attempt to contribute to my community. I am no expert on this topic, but this is my simple way to begin a conversation that we lack. We come from a society that is not good in expressing ourselves. We do not kiss goodbyes or express our love by saying “I love you”.  Similarly, we do not express, “I need help”.  We think that we understand each other without the need of words. Lately, I have come to appreciate the need of expressing. I even surprised my mother by telling her “I love you, Ama”. The experience was therapeutic for both us. I urge every one of us to try to be more open to our selves and our loved ones. Let us learn to be honest to our selves and say “I need help” when we do need help. There are counselors in schools, at work places, at community hospitals, local churches, agencies and community organizations. You can look up for toll-free numbers for your State or call the national suicide hotline given in this website: Instead of treating as a taboo topic, let us talk about it and discuss it. I am hoping that we discussing amongst us will bring some fruitful answers.  Each individual can throw some light and only then can our community shine.

Comments from Bhutanese readers allude to reasons of suicide as unemployment, lack of English language skills, and limited assistance from the resettlement agencies, etc. I am not here to gauge these, but I feel that these are factors that call for more opportunities that can subsequently strengthen us. In the darkest of hours, let us look at our elderly parents for inspiration. They are the ones who build homes in Bhutan and ploughed the Bhutanese jungles into productive fields. Language did not deter them (most did not speak Dzongkha) and the government gave them no grants (no welcome money).  But they flourished. Then they were banished. They lost everything. Now they are here and making every effort to keep themselves happy.  And they stand with their heads held high. While CDC study says that the median age of Bhutanese committing suicide is 34, an adult ESL class is filled with enthusiastic students, no younger than 45. I marvel at the sight of an 83 years old grandpa making an effort to pronounce “EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION”.  I realize that this is what we, sons and daughters of heroes like this grandpa, should feel and encourage each other to feel. Emancipated.



  1. Readers, I thank you so much for your responses that came in various forms like comments, “likes”, personal calls, emails, and in-person discussions. I am glad that my writing meant a lot to many. To the naysayers, I request to re-read my article. I am not being insensitive to numbers/data; I acknowledge the alarming numbers and therefore make a call to talk about the issue instead of laying it out in silo. And I thought and still think that the title of article that I referred was offensive to me as a Bhutanese – just my opinion and hence published in OPINION section.

    I have been updated by a reader who has just recently completed a four day training on mental health. He has been kind enough to share with me what he learned. I think it is something to keep in mind and I am sharing it here in his words:

    “completed suicide” has replaced the term “committed suicide” — in most cases. If one who attempts to suicide did not die, it would be “incomplete suicide”.

    Thank you,