I sadly believed this statement up until I began working for Dr. Donna Barnes at the Mental Health Center at Howard University. At that time, I had never personally dealt with suicide, and I had only heard of a situation that occurred on campus the previous summer. That incident was discussed more as an accident than a potential suicide. I wrongly assumed that this was not an issue that affected people who looked like me and therefore I did not have to deal with it. Working with Dr. Barnes on Suicide Prevention on campus and learning more about suicide changed my outlook and way of thinking.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall, but the 3rd leading cause of death in persons aged 10-14, and the 2nd leading cause of death in persons aged 15-29 (CDC Vital Statistics 2011). Suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death among young black males from 2001-2010 (CDC Report 2010). Comparatively, African-Americans commit suicide at a lower rate overall, but there still remains a concern amongst our Black youth. Black youth are affected by suicide at a higher rate than Black adults, and on average, die from suicide a decade earlier than White Americans.
The numbers may not be alarming enough to make people wake up and realize that we have an issue on our hands, but the reality is that we cannot wait any longer to discuss this topic. Now is the time to begin to look at the root of the issues that are affecting our youth. Suicide is not a comfortable conversation to have. As a health care provider, I have never become comfortable asking someone about their mental health status. It is a very private and personal topic that very few feel comfortable sharing. Understanding suicide, the warning signs, and knowing where to go for help, may not be able to save every single person, but may be able to teach us how to reach someone who may need our support and save a life.
The first thing we have to do is stop putting a face to suicide. We see suicide as a White issue and that barrier prevents us from taking the time to discuss, understand and recognize suicide as our issue. Secondly, we have to be ready to relinquish the idea that we have to be strong to survive. Yes, our strength and resilience can be an asset you our success, but it also can be a trap that leads to someone feeling overwhelmed trying to live up to that image. Lastly, we have to support each other and check-in on one another. Many times someone crosses our mind and we brush it away, instead of picking up the phone and reaching out. When people say things that show that their troubles are beginning to overwhelm them, we have to express empathy and patience, instead of ignoring or sweeping it under the rug.
Suicide is not a new issue and will not quietly go away with any one solution. There are so many pressure points that we have to recognize, address and deal with in order to provide people with options. We have to change the way we talk about suicide, mental health, depression, counseling and even the use of prescribed medicines. The conversation may be hard to start but once we are honest with ourselves and each other, we can grow and empower others.
After working with Dr. Barnes I became more aware of suicide and the potential signs, but it did not prepare me to lose someone close to me. To this day, I think of my dear friend often and I have vowed to continue the conversation as a way to honor her life and all that she was to so many. The pain that those left behind endure after losing someone to suicide is indescribable, but I can only imagine the pain that she was dealing with that led to her decision.
On September 20th I am walking in her honor at the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, to appreciate her contributions and to continue the conversation. Feel free to support or send words of encouragement. I continue to pray for her family and loved ones. We will never forget who she was to each of us. This conversation is deep and has so many layers. This is the first installment of many that will help to facilitate the conversation.
Know that you are not alone. Be you. Do you. Tell your own story. On your own terms.
Donation page: http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=585209
Resources to learn more: