High Profile Suicide--High Achiever Psychology: Parts Unknown written by Dr. Trudy, 6/8/2018

“Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death.[6] Risk factors include mental disorders such as depressionbipolar disorderschizophreniapersonality disorders, and substance abuse” according to Wikipedia.

Traditionally, suicide is associated with misery, pain and suffering mostly resulting from financial troubles, traumatic loss and poverty.  Logically, ending one's life puts an end on the sources of suffering and brings relief.

However, we now see a new risk factor: high achiever risk.  We see this in high school students pursuing achievement and high profile, successful celebrities.  I call this new risk factor: “High Achiever Psychology: Parts Unknown.”

Let’s look at these:

Kate Spade, 55-year-old well-known New York fashion designer, committed suicide on 6/4/2018.  

Anthony Bourdain, 61-year-old world-renowned chef, writer, and CNN "Parts Unknown" TV show host, took his life on 6/8/2018.  

Robin Williams, 63-year-old Oscar-winning movie star and best-known Hollywood comedian, hanged himself on 8/11/2014. 

Ernest Hemingway, 62-year-old Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning American writer, shot himself in the head on 7/2/1961.

 Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Robin Williams were icons and epiphany of talent, success, fame, wealth, and the best elements of so-called good life.  They demonstrated all the quality and characteristics that people want to emulate to reach the stardom.  These high-profile suicides not only shock the celebrity circles but also shake the whole media empires.  Everyone is perplexed by the unanswered mystery, "Money, fame, stardom, awards are glamorous but still not enough to motivate these highly successful people to keep on breathing.  Would the celebrity success model lead more driven people to stardom and then perish in a similar fashion?  Then what should people believe, pursue, and follow?"  

From my professional therapy practice in Silicon Valley, the following are some observations: 

I. Age Perspective:  Age 55-65 used to be considered as old adult life stage but it should be redefined as Mature Adulthood Mid-Life Stage.  In traditional Human Development Theories, mid-life crisis used to happen during the age of 35-45 and the crisis manifestation includes boredom in stability; i.e., existing marital/family/career/lifestyle and a burning desire to break free from the routine, comfort, or confinement. 

These high-profile suicides shed light unto the Mature Adulthood Mid-Life Unknown Psyche; that is, existential crisis and mortality.  What is the next goal after the stardom, climax of career success?  What is the meaning of all the glories?  What is the meaning of life?  Where is life leading to after the physical health declines? 

II. Career Perspective:  After decades of upward career trajectory, how to prepare to face the parallel bleak downward slope, such as pre-retirement, retirement, forced retirement, the loss of stage, the fear of loss?  

III. Stardom Perspective:  How to continue stardom and prevent it from diminishing?  How to make the transient star quality and great life style into celestial immortality?  

IV. Perfect Life Perspective:  Celebrity life is portrayed by the lens of camera.  Images can be modified and edited to perfection or completely eliminated.  In reality, they are not a perfect superman or superwoman.  Ironically, in the real life, rejection, setback, and heartbreak are crucial ingredients for human development and can not be modified or eliminated as easy as images or covered up with fashionable clothing and accessories.   

V. Market Driven Perspective:  Celebrities are considered as pioneers in trend-setting and also symbolize the selling power for visible and invisible ideas or products that people consciously and unconsciously desire to have and to follow.  They can become marketing tools and victims in the pursuit of the stardom at the expense of a normal well-rounded life. 

VI.  Substance Use Perspective:  High profile celebrities live a high-demand, high-stress life which take a big toll on their physical and mental health.  In order to enhance their energy and performance, substance use, abuse, and addiction is a common but hidden denominator. Substance use includes alcohol, prescription medicines, illegal drugs, etc., which increase impulsivity, cloud judgment and brain dysfunction which can push any individual over the edge.   

VII.  Holistic Life Perspective:  Above six perspectives emphasize on talent discovery, grooming, career adventure to reach the peak.  The time and resource are mainly devoted and prepared for an individual's ascending climb to the top but no emphasis on intangible coping skills in dealing with treacherous descending fall, such as unconditional love, resilience in abrupt interruption, internal happiness, and life wisdom.

Leo Tolstoy, 82-year-old Russian literature giant (9/9/1828-11/20/1910), died naturally but he was wracked with despair and contemplated suicide.  His book forbidden by Soviet Communism, A Calendar of Wisdom, was published in 1912, can be a wise antidote for modern high achievers in dealing with Mature Adult Mid-Life Crisis and a tranquil trail head into a transition into the mysterious parts unknown of real life journey. 

Tolstoy wrote, "We are here for a short time.  Knowledge is limitless. Therefore, the most critical knowledge is not a particular skill or discipline but rather wisdom about 'how to live'."

"Strive for goodness without any expectations for rapid or noticeable success.  For the further you progress, the higher your ideal of perfection will rise.  Yet it is the process itself, this striving, that justifies our lives."

Tolstoy's belief in a higher ideal cured his existential despair and imbued his life with meaning.  
He also wrote, "Nobody knows where the human race is going.  The highest wisdom, then, is to know where you are going."


Thoughts on Living Happier Life by Dr. Trudy, 6/23/2018

Tiger Mom's Cry--Silicon Valley Suicide Crises and Mystery


Silicon Valley Psychiatric Consulting Services

When the suicides happened in the most elite high school, Henry M. Gunn High School, an affluent community, also in the heart of Silicon Valley, the home of the most brilliant and successful inventors, invention and companies, it raises a red flag and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is conducting an investigation and trying to find out the root cause of the invisible, mysterious and contagious disease, suicide cluster. I was informed more than 10 years ago in Oregon that parents in Palo Alto have organized patrol teams around the Caltrain tracks but obviously the suicide symptom is not alleviated after a decade later.

Any news related to death is always shocking and grief stricken.  Homicide is the violent action of an individual to take someone else’s life.  Victims and victims’ loved ones may vent their shock and anger toward criminals, suspects or someone else.  Suicide is the violent action of an individual who chooses death as an exit, an outlet or a statement. 

It is always an unsolved mystery that plagued family members and loved ones about the sources of anger and pain which motivates the individual to end his/her own life.  Parents who lost their child through suicide have the most difficult time in recovery.  By witnessing a precious infant that parents gave birth, nurtured, protected and educated without reservation chose to stop all the hopes and dreams pre-maturely is simply heart-broken.

Basic Statistics about Gunn High School

Demographics:  Asian 43.8%, White 38.7%, Hispanic 8.8%, Bi-Racial 6.2%, Others < 2.5%.

54% of students scored a grade of 5. 

The top 2 universities Gunn High School students go to: Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley.  

Most of the deceased students were Asian American male during 2014-2015.  Most of the deceased students were Caucasian male and female during 2009-2010.

Puzzling Questions

When does the teens’ youthful life turn into such unbearable misery?

Why do the teens with such rich learning environment see no future?

How come there is no light/no solution at the dark tunnel in such an illuminating Silicon Valley full of inventors and inventions to solve other people’s problems?

In the “diverse” and “open” American society, why do all the best high school students, especially students with Asian heritage and Caucasian students, are put through such a gruesome competitive and inhumane way in college admission process with quota system to limit their opportunity, especially in Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley?

How could academic stress push a young teen to the path of suicide?

Universities pay big money to recruit football players and coaches.  Why can’t universities or high schools resolve the suicide crises of their best brains and future inventors since a decade ago?  

Many parents are asking, “Will suicide clusters just limited in Gunn High School in Palo Alto or it has happened in other elite high schools and colleges without much public awareness (Note 1)?” 

Most of the parents could not understand the stress level that their teens and young adults were undertaken.  Let me explain it to you the sources and developing process of the internal academic pressure bomb.

Political, Social and Economical Backdrop

As a clinical psychologist with 30-year clinical experience, I would like to shed some light upon the academically brilliant teen suicide epidemic issue.  As the reports indicated that the academic stress has become insane and unbearable in Gunn High School, Palo Alto, CA.  Some complained about the effect of Tiger Mom parenting style and some blamed the influence of Chinese and Korean type of academic stress.

Take my high school experience as an example.  I grew up in Taiwan which is a small island located in southeast of China.  My father was a navy officer withdrew from China to Taiwan with President Chiang Kai-Shek military after 1949.  With limited finance and resource, most of the people migrated from China to Taiwan lost their homeland, their family in China, and everything (Note 2).  My father’s generation should be defined correctly as “defeated homeless refugees” in today’s political term after the wars with Japan and Chinese Communist Party. 

The only way to become successful in a small island without any resource or connection is through education.  President Chiang Kai-Shek did a great job in setting up almost free education from kindergarten to high school for every child (Baby Boomer Generation) in Taiwan.  Since most of the students with similar background want to be successful in basic education and later on college education, the best and fairest way for everyone to get into college is through College Entrance Examination.  The pressure of College Entrance Examination has escalated year by year and become insane and unbearable. 

Every student was ranked by test score and all colleges were ranked, too (Note 3).  A student’s score and his/her college ranking become his/her identity, pride and value.  Similar academic stress has pushed many Japanese teens and Korean teens to suicide in Japan and Korea, too.  There was no Tiger Mom or demanding parents at that time due to widespread economical hardship (poverty) that my parents’ generation had to endure.  The academic stress mainly arose internally from high aspiration for achievement, high self-expectation and extremely competitive academic environment among a large group of high-achieving students whose survival and success rely on their own academic excellence.   Once a student was admitted by top universities and the top departments, it symbolized one’s caliber of intelligence, elite status, and academic brand through numerous past harsh tests.  Students and parents assume that they would be awarded with promising career future.  They also believe that they would harvest the abundant fruits of their long hard labor.  

The Myth of Asian American Students’ Academic Success

Normal daily academic workload can grow into heavy workload and later on disabling burden which can cause physical diseases, depression, and occupational depression (Note 4) like most of middle-aged professionals in highly competitive high-tech work environment.  Asian immigrant parents work at high-stress Silicon Valley without much resource or connection in a new society, like their defeated homeless refugee parents, and uphold the same belief system and academic dreams unto their off-springs unconsciously. 

Once the chronic academic stress persists and goes beyond the limit of tolerance threshold, an individual will suffer sleep disorder, sleep deprivation, declined immune system, frequent bacteria and virus attacks, physical and mental fatigue, declined cognitive capacity in attention span, comprehending, reasoning, memory retention, analysis, problem-solving, judgment, and more.  The academic stress from high school continues in high-achieving college students, too.  The individual walks around campus or workplace like a zombie.  The worst symptom is the loss of pleasure and positive sensory reactions.  It is hard for an adult or a teen to understand or accept the sudden “failure” or “decline” even with consistent excellence in the past.  It might be considered as shameful degradation and devastating defeat in the competitive academic games.  Any setback, such as a falling grade, a rejection, any disqualification can be interpreted as a failure, or a beginning of an end to the final glory.  It triggers a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness.  A vulnerable teen with growing sexual hormones but has limited time for social interactions and relaxation tends to escape the stressful reality through internet gaming and social media. Unfortunately, it only facilitates a narrower tunnel vision with no outlet or solution (Note 5).  Negative downward spiral thought process leads to disillusion, despair, and endless misery.  Ending one's life seems to be a comforting and suggestive option to stop the misery from going on. 

Silent Tiger Mom's Cry

Are there other approaches in addition to Caltrain track patrol to protect the brilliant youth from harming themselves? (Note 6)

Is it time for Tiger Moms to break silence, roar, and break the Model Minority stereotype?

Is it time for Tiger Moms and Tiger Dads in Palo Alto to get together to fight for their young teens’ survival and their own silent suffering and sacrifice in the high stress Silicon Valley instead of pressuring themselves and their young teens to internalize the silent discrimination through fierce competition which inflamed by discriminatory quota policies to limit the opportunity for academically outstanding Asian and Caucasian students from receiving high-quality college education that parents’ taxes pay for?

Universities pro-actively reach out to excellent athletes.  Athletes are awarded with various athletic scholarships in top universities without quota limitation or affirmative action to restrict athletes' admission.  Athletes are applauded by thousands and millions of viewers.  Sports injury and sports psychology have been under the spot light to advocate the care for athletes. Academically outstanding students should be considered as academic athletes, too.  If Julie Moss, a winning athlete in Ironman competition, experienced the sudden collapse of her legs and crawled to the finishing line in 1982 to inspire the whole world (Note 6).  Julie Moss demonstrated her winning courage and winning will power as well as the limits of our physical body.  What happen to Julie Moss' legs can happen to Asian American and Caucasian American youth's brain in the same way and maybe worse!  When the command center in our body (brain) shuts down, it is impossible for the brain to send out emergency alarm or command to other parts of the body, like the voice inside Julie Moss' brain to urge her to get up after her legs collapsed.

African American adults and youth protested in many cities, including Berkeley and shouting “Black Lives Matter.”  The destruction of the cities were tolerated and accepted by the media which have many African American anchors and reporters as advocates, too.

Asian American young lives should matter, too, shouldn’t they?  Asian engineers’ family life should matter, too, shouldn’t it?  Silicon Valley high-tech workhorses’ brain health should matter, too, shouldn’t it?   How come there is no protest on campus, on streets, or even on popular social media but silent death walk into the train tracks and silent crying and burning inside the elite MIT dorm room?  Where are the advocates of diversity for excellence?  Where is the leadership for affirmative action for outstanding young Asian Americans and White Americans, especially boys?  Should Tiger Moms turn their silent cry and guilt into a loud roar?  What a lonely, isolated, hopeless, helpless and heart-broken way to end a brilliant young life without any support or voice from the most wealthy society/state in the world except the regular train horn beckoning nearby! 

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."  Martin Luther King, Jr.


Note 1: The rate of student suicide at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) continues to be notably higher than the national average (3/17/2015).  Asian American student suicide rate at MIT is quadruple in National Average (3/20/2015).  A female MIT student, Elizabeth Shins, committed suicide in her dorm room through burning in April, 2000. A Boston Globe study of college suicides, 1990-2001 indicated that among 12 schools that made data available, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, University of Michigan, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, etc., MIT had the highest suicide rate.  74% of MIT students surveyed by the 2001 MIT task force said that they had an emotional problem that interfered with their daily lives.

Note 2: Majority of military service members before 1949 in China came from wealthy families and businesses, land owners whose youth chose to defend their land, families, assets, and business during the 8-year-long war against Japanese invasion and then followed by a civil war with Chinese Communism Party.

Note 3: Top ranked colleges in Taiwan were/are public-funded colleges with affordable tuition: US$300 per student per year.

Note 4Occupational Depression, High Stress Symptoms among High-Tech Employees

Note 5:  Young and Vulnerable Teens’ Brain Development 

Note 6:  Julie Moss' Inspirational Experience


Silicon Valley Suicide

Disturbing Suicide Cluster

MIT Suicide Rate Higher Than National Average

Asian American Student Suicide Rate:


Inspiration from "Book Thief" (05/13/2014)

My daughter picked a movie, "Book Thief", for the Mother's Day celebration for me on 5/11/14.

The movie features a little girl who could not read but had a strong desire to learn.

She had the courage to take a book from the burned book pile during the political gathering that every adult and child had to show their obedience and loyalty toward Hitler by throwing books into the fire.  It was illegal to keep books or anyone could lose his/her life by violating the "laws".  It was legal to prosecute and kill a Jew or anyone could lose his/her life by violating the "laws".  In order to survive, people had to subject himself/herself under the laws of hurting people, burning books, and even demonstrating "emotionally abusive interactions" between mother and daughter, husband and wife, friends at school in order to conceal the genuine love and happiness toward a human being, a book, or simply life itself.

People did that as a general practice in order to follow the laws of the ruler or they lose their status, business and life eventually.  Conscience or genuineness can not be shown (it can only be a secret).  

In certain ethnic minority communities, alcohol drinking, child abuse and sexual abuse are all very common.  Many young girls were sexually molested or abused by their fathers, step-fathers, mothers' boyfriends, uncles, cousins, older siblings, etc.  Most girls grew up and revealed their trauma/anger toward their mothers because their mothers knew about the abuses but they did not say anything due to the fear of losing their own survival.  In those clinical cases, those mothers did that as a general practice in order to follow the laws of the house rulers (bread winners) or they lose their food, shelter and legal status eventually.  Conscience or genuineness can not be displayed (it can only be a secret).      

There are still many parallel processes going on in many organizations nowadays.  People continue to follow the general practice without checking into the individually different situation so that the conscience and genuineness can not be shown in the fear of losing their status, job, or survival.
Laws are subject to the rulers and leaders.  There is no ultimate righteous laws in a defective human world (or institutions) with human greed for power and control.  Sometimes, only through innocent children's eyes we can have a glimpse of the genuine bravery, compassion, conscience and humanity without the contamination of hypocrisy and corruption in adults' world.
This movie is very insightful and thought provoking.

Sexual Assault, Sexual Abuse and Suicides On College Campus

Similar hypocritical and cover-up parallel process is still happening in many institutions, also inside elite educational institutions, such as University of California, Berkeley.
Caution to Parents and Perspective Students:  Before you sent in your application fee and tuition to your dream colleges, you need to be aware of major concerns and predators, such as the following issues within University of California at Berkeley and UC System.

The following interpretations of codes/regulations are loosely used as general practice for years by Center for Student Conduct and Dean of Students within University of California, Berkeley, and UC System.  

When you are sent to a hospital and have a "hospital transportation record", the Center for Student Conduct at University of California, Berkeley, can and will cite you having performed "physical abuse" to yourself.  (Jan. 2014)

Even though a student is alcohol naive (never used alcohol or unfamiliar with alcohol use) and is invited or lured to drink alcohol in a fraternity party that serves alcohol to any attendees without checking ID, that student can and will be cited by the Center of Student Conduct at UC,Berkeley, for "Alcohol Use". (Jan. 2014)

If a student feels dizzy and sleepy after physical purging unfamiliar substance in his/her dorm and then sleeps in his/her own bed, the Center of Student Conduct can and will cite that student for "Alcohol Abuse in the Dorm."  (Jan. 2014)

Director of Center for Student Conduct (Hallie Lewis Hunt) had the authority to retroactively change their inconsistent but permissive statements and actions toward fraternity houses (Greek Organizations which actually possess, distribute, use alcohol, drug female students, sexual assault) to protect fraternity organizations and their own mishandling without any consequence.  

Since the authorities (Becca Lopez, Hallie Lewis Hunt) in the University of California, Berkeley emphasized that it is very common to cite above-mentioned violations (based on the above-mentioned English definitions) to students as general practice, many students or families who were mislabeled and mis-charged impossible monetary penalties do not have the time, resources, language proficiency, cultural understanding, substance training or legal knowledge to find out more inconsistency and wrongful citations within Student Conduct Center within University of California, Berkeley for years.  Please consult a professor in English department, any counselor or simply a dictionary (a book).  

What a sharp contrast and another similar parallel process:  Sexual predators do not face any consequences but sexual assault victims had to bear the trauma for life or committing suicide due to stigma and shame.  If a sexual assault victim or an alcohol naive student seeks medical help or reports to the Police, the Center for Student Conduct will charge victims with multiple misconduct citations and penalty first.  This practice has been confirmed by the authorities in University of California, Berkeley consider as "common general practice" in University of California, Berkeley.   


1.  Disturbing Sexual Abuse in University of California, Berkeley:

Stigma of Sexual Assault and Mishandling of Center for Student Conduct in University of California, Berkeley, Prevent Victims From Coming Forward and Seeking Help:  (Oct., 2014)   (Feb., 2016)



5.  Alcohol naive is a medical term which indicates the individual is not exposed to alcohol drink, not familiar with alcohol types, alcohol contents, various alcohol drinks, alcohol drinking behaviors or all the behavioral disorder and possible abusive behaviors or consequences (i.e., ACOA: adult children of alcoholics) elicited from alcohol drinking.

6.  Professional Substance Use/Abuse/Dependency/Addiction Assessment Tool for Adolescence and Young Adults:  CARFFT

C--The teenager or young adult has ridden in a CAR with a driver who is high (drunk, under the influence of substance)

A--The teenager or young adult tends to use the substance ALONE.

R--The teenager or young adult uses the alcohol or substance for RELAXATION.
F--The teenager or young adult has used the alcohol or substance regularly and he/she tends to FORGET (memory loss, cognitive dysfunction). 

F--The teenager's or young adult's FRIENDS and FAMILY have commented on his/her alcohol or substance use/abuse/dependency/addiction and advised him/her to cut down, stop and to seek help.

T--The teenager or young adult has gotten into TROUBLE while he/she was using alcohol or substance.

Anyone who has 2 out of 6 criteria will be qualified for alcohol use/abuse/dependency/addiction.  

The parents of teens or young adults who have alcohol and substance use/abuse/dependency/addiction issues experienced the free experiments of drugs and substance in 1960s-1970s and sexual revolution which was the most prevalent popular culture in society as well as college campuses.