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March 7, 2005

Iris Chang, Author was Bipolar?

It was revealed today that Iris Chang, renowned author of the bestselling book "The Rape of Nanking" was diagnosed with "brief reactive psychosis" and possibly bipolar disorder, prior to her suicide in Los Gatos, California last year.

The Mercury News newspaper of San Jose, California, said today that "Her suicide has made her a symbol for another cause: the fight to end a longstanding stigma against mental illness in Asian-American communities, which leads many people to delay getting treatment and suffer in isolation."

The story noted that Iris Chang's parents said Sunday that they wish they had not honored her request to keep it private.

"In Asian culture it's considered shameful to have some mental patient in your family," she said. "But mental illness is a disease, a chemical imbalance in the brain. We should treat it just like a heart attack or diabetes."

The parents suggest that if the family had been more open about discussing Chang's condition with family and friends, they might have found support from these people -- some of whom came forward after her death to reveal their own struggles with mental illness -- and the tragedy might have been prevented.

The message that I take away from this sad story that its best to be open with close family and friends, about bipolar disorder and related brain disorders. Its nothing to be ashamed of, and we all are better off if people understand how common these illnesses are.

The Culture to Culture Foundation, based in Alamo, California has raised more than $230,000 toward scholarships for Chinese-speaking students who are working toward mental health careers.

The foundation has compiled a directory of Asian mental health professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area and recently opened the Healthy Living Center in Fremont. The Foundation's directory of Asian mental health services in the Bay Area is at www.asianmentalhealth.info

More information: The Chinese-American Mental Health Network

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