Black Women (and Men) Can Be Suicidal, Too
If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
On my blog, I share how I attempted suicide when I was younger, so I know what it is like living through feelings of hopelessness and suicidality. Four years ago, in December, I attempted suicide for the last time ever. So I’m writing this post in honor of living.
In this post, I just want to share my experience with suicide. I will also share signs of suicide to be aware of, from my experience, to help someone to be there for anyone they care about who may be suicidal. I know what it is like to be suicidal and long for someone to hear you and help you find a reason to live. My hope is for more people of color to be aware that black women (and men) can be suicidal too, and know how to provide compassionate assistance.
Suicide is an issue of public health. Across all age groups, suicide rates have increased by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although white males have the highest rate of death by suicide, followed by white women, 481 black females and 2,023 black males died by suicide in 2015. This may not be a staggering number, but each of these lives is valuable.
In the black community, mental health is a taboo topic and riddled with stigma. If you are suicidal in the black community and confide in the wrong person, you may become even more hopeless. Parents may tell you to just do XYZ and try to just get over it. Relatives may reassure you that you don’t have anything to be depressed about. Friends may tell you that you don’t need a therapist because you will be labeled. All of these responses are ridiculous and unhelpful. I hope this post will help others learn to simply listen and be empathetic without judgment.
My Signs of Suicide
The first time I attempted suicide, I was in high school and something as simple as a breakup had sent me over the edge. Crying, I locked myself in the bathroom and tried to die by suicide. My mom was unamused; she thought I was simply being overdramatic and seeking attention. No one took my pain seriously. Afterward, I didn’t die or even become ill, I just threw up and was off to take a test that same night. That was my life — hurt and pain no one to cared about. I just kept moving forward.
A few years prior to this moment, I had experienced three traumatic events in a short period of time. After these events, I never got help to cope with any of it. All I did was keep to myself and threw myself into school to avoid my emotions. I never even told anyone about what I had gone through. Before and after this experience, I had suicide ideation and thoughts about what it would be like if I just didn’t exist anymore. I also had an extremely pessimistic outlook on life, got angry easily and isolated myself from my family.
If you are familiar with the statistics, you may know that females attempt suicide twice as often as males, but because men choose more lethal methods they are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than females. This was my truth, so I did attempt suicide again a few years later. I thank God I didn’t die.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Signs of suicide can look different from person to person, but here are four signs you can look for.
1. Mental Illness
Different things can trigger suicidal feelings and actions: family history, trauma, mental health issues, chronic pain and much more. A common risk factor among people who have died by suicide is some form of mental illness. Pay attention to the person you love. Are there any changes in their social engagement, level of worry or sadness or ability to handle daily tasks? Did you know African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population?
2. Verbal Signs
A clear sign of suicide is what someone says. Is someone you care about talking about death as a way out of life’s obligations, especially small daily obligations? Maybe they feel helpless about life or they are talking about wanting to stop the burden of emotional or physical pain from a specific event. If so, listen without judgment.
3. Emotional Signs
When a person has lost all hope or is living with a mental illness, they may experiences changes in their mood. Little things may make them easily agitated or annoyed, or they may be in a constant state of unexplainable sadness.
4. Behavioral Signs
Changes in behavior is also a key sign to look for. When you experience hopelessness, you may lose interest in the things that once gave you joy or develop self-destructive behavior. Maybe someone you care about is missing classes, under or overeating, not spending time with friends or becoming dependent on drugs or alcohol.
These are not all the possible signs, but these are common signs that someone you care about may need help.
Now you know help is needed, how do you help?
1. Be Present
Show up for the person you care about. Just by being around, you can show someone you care about them and value their life.
2. Really Listen
Don’t judge or simply blow off someone’s feelings. How someone is expressing their feelings is the key to understanding what is going on inside them. So listen. Just listen.
If you hear or see suicidal signs, before anything else, ask if the person has been thinking about suicide. It won’t make someone more likely to attempt suicide, but if it is truly how they feel, it will open up the door for dialogue and self-expression.
4. Provide Encouragement
Don’t downplay someone’s emotions by telling them how irrational their feelings are or how what they are feeling is no big deal. Instead, provide positive encouragement. You can let them know that others have felt the same way, and help is available. You should also, remind them they are loved and valued.
5. Connect Them to Help
At the end of the day, you are not qualified to handle the full burden of what the person you care about is experiencing. However, you can and should help someone by linking them to by a qualified psychologist or counselor. Did you know: Only about one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40 percent of whites?
Here is a short list of resources I recommend that you should have on hand if you notice signs of suicide in someone you care about.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Veteran Crisis Lie: 1-800-273-8255 +1
Crisis Text Line: text Hello to 741-741
Crisis Chat: Lifeline Crisis Chat
Online Counseling: Betterhelp
Local Psychologist or Therapist: Find a Therapist via Psychology Today
For those of you on the outside looking in, just remember to be present and be aware of signs pointing to suicidality. Remember to listen without judgment. And above all else, remember to provide positive encouragement and linkage to qualified help, because on the other side of wanting to die is wanting to live.
Follow this journey on the author’s blog.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
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Photo by Olayinka Babalola on Unsplash