Photo by: Jo-Jo Jones Photography
Talking about suicide is hard, for several reasons. Not only are we constantly combating the stigma of mental health in general, but we also are frequently turning our backs to the reality of suicide in our communities. No one wants to talk about if or when they may have felt suicidal. Rarely do we hear about those lost by suicide or the impact that was had on their friends or family members. Suicide has a way of leaving an eerily quiet and lingering trial of guilt, sadness, shame, and isolation, which further perpetuates stigma.
I know there has always been this myth that “Black people don’t kill themselves.” Well, I’m here to tell you that is false. Rather, I’m here to reveal that we all knew it was false all along. In fact, many of us have been impacted by suicide in some way and those around us may not even know. We like to pretend that WE or those we love will never and would never even consider suicide because it’s very difficult to imagine that someone would want to end their life. We like to pretend this doesn’t happen to us because we are constantly telling ourselves that we are strong and that suicide is a weakness We like to pretend this doesn’t happen to us because we have religion and our relationship with God is “supposed to” shield us from any pain that we can’t handle. We like to pretend this doesn’t happen to us because we tell ourselves that it could always be worse. Pretending that Black people don’t die by suicide makes it so that we don’t have to confront the pain of our lives or the pain of our loved ones. Pretending that we are immune from thoughts or death by suicide creates an illusion that in the long run only hurts us.
The reality is that there are several factors and circumstances that put us at risk for suicide. These include psychological distress, substance abuse, access to weapons and firearms, social isolation, homelessness, exposure to violence, family dysfunction, maladaptive coping skills, and exposure to racial inequality and oppression. We are also much more likely to die by suicide if we have previously attempted suicide. Black communities are further put at risk for suicide because of the limited access to mental health service that we frequently experience, due to lack of proximity of services, lack of insurance for mental health coverage, stigma, and distrust of mental health professionals.
So what are the facts about suicide in the Black community?
(Source: “African American Suicide Fact Sheet, Based on 2015 Data (2017)”, American Association of Suicidology)
We have to keep talking about suicide. We cannot afford to be silent about this because being silent has never made suicide go away. If anything, our silence makes suicide more likely to happen because it allows us and those we love to go unnoticed and suffer alone. Talking about suicide is key in the prevention of suicide.
If you know someone who is considering suicide:
Take them seriously.
Get them help.
If you are considering suicide:
Talk to someone.
Take this seriously.
Ask for help.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
To hear more about how suicide impacts the Black community and to learn probable reasons for why death by suicide among Black children is on the rise, tune into episode 20 of ‘A Different Perspective’ podcast.
Dr. Amber Thornton
Clinical psychologist with a passion for family, community, culture, and diversity.