This post discusses suicide. If you or someone you know are in need of support, please reach out for support.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
En Español: 1-888-628-9454
For people who are deaf/hard-of-hearing: 1-800-799-4889
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
I have struggled with suicidality in relation to my mental health since I was thirteen years old. Frankly, in reference to poet Sam Sax, I have lived a long life of not wanting to be alive. Throughout this long life, I have grown in how to manage my suicidal ideation and other mental health symptoms. In this growth, I wanted to learn how to do things like let my family know about how I’m doing in therapy, potentially look into medication, write about mental health, and pray in a healthy way.
Growing up amongst religious black family members, it is no surprise that talking about depression is taboo, especially when my depression made me want to die over and over again.
I had family members say that I couldn’t have depression because it was a “white people thing” and that if I just prayed about it, it would go away. I had family members tell me that dying by suicide was a sinful act because it was selfish. Why would I want to hurt myself and put my family through so much grief? Why would I want to destroy the precious gift of life God gave me?
I haven’t seen a lot of this addressed in dialogue around blackness and mental health. Some may argue that we don’t talk about suicide in black communities because we don’t hear about them often enough. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the ethnicity with the lowest rates of people dying by suicide is African Americans. The CDC attested that this is due to the drive and passion in our ethnicity’s social support, particularly from faith communities.
I want to make clear that being involved in a faith community can bring so much joy. As someone who prays on a regular basis for my personal religious and spiritual growth, it is amazing how grounded faith can make one feel, and how it can potentially improve their quality of life. And though you might expect I’d be grateful for the low rates of suicide among African Americans, I don’t believe we have the lowest suicide rates because our faith communities or family members openly speak praises to the joys of livelihood and how to navigate life. I believe this research exists because, whether intentional or not, there are members of our faith communities and families who shame or guilt us into staying alive.
After I attempted suicide at the age of fifteen, my drive to stay alive was for purely for the sake of others. My parents and siblings would have reacted terribly if I had died. I don’t believe I would have ended up in Hell if I had died, but it’s possible my grandmother would think otherwise. It didn’t matter how shitty I thought life was, I was going to just pray and “ride it out” for their sake. I wasn’t going to be a tragic story like another white person profusely mourned in the media by celebrities and suicide prevention campaigns led predominantly by even more white people. When speaking to fellow black suicide survivors, these similar thoughts and stories came up.
What many didn’t understand was how I thought people would be better off without me despite the initial sadness, and yet the people in my life repeatedly called what I wanted to attempt “selfish.” I actually thought staying alive was selfish while simultaneously feeling shame for wanting to die from the people around me.
It wasn’t until a year or two ago where I realized the importance of staying alive for myself. It is the most selfless gift to hold just for the sake of my mental health recovery. There are already so many systems that bring us down as black people, that want us dead. What an act of resistance and a middle finger to white supremacy by staying alive for ourselves.
I recognize that not everyone has been able to come to this revelation or has access to resources to redirect their frame of thought for healing. It’s important for suicide hotlines to be accessible for black people, especially in making sure police are not the first called when someone expresses suicidal ideation. I would encourage black folks to look into resources such as Depressed While Black for social media support and awareness of underrepresented stories about suicide for black people. Peerly Human is a good resource for alternative support groups and calls online for folks to talk openly about suicidal ideation. I recommend Melanin and Mental Health, Therapy for Black Girls, and Psychology Today to look up therapists in your area that will meet your needs based on cultural competency, finances, insurance, and more. And most importantly, be willing to find things in life to look forward to, because we are worthy of things that make us feel happy about living.
No one should ever have to be guilted or shamed into living.