To wrap up Suicide Awareness Month, I have invited Kamisha Johnson back to inform us about the severity, realness, and seriousness about Suicide, especially in communities of color. It can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug. We need to recognize the signs and do what we can to save ourselves and each other. Thank You Kamisha!
“The Seriousness of Suicide & Stigma amongst the African American Community”
“Black people don’t commit suicide.” This is a stigma that is not easily discussed amongst the African American Community. It appears that there is some unspoken rule book that exempts us from having dialogue about suicidal ideation and actual suicide. According to The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, “Suicide is the 3rd cause of death amongst African American Males between the ages of 15-24, behind homicide and accidents. Also, suicide death rates among black men are 5x that of Black Women.” Not all people who consider suicide have visible symptoms of Depression. Some people have made a concrete decision to end their life and have a plan to execute (in the literal sense). Warning signs to look for listed by WebMD include:
- Always talking or thinking about death
- Clinical Depression-deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping or eating
- Having a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death such as driving fast
- Losing interests in things One use to care about
- Making comments about being hopeless, helpless and worthless
- Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
- Sudden unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing happy
- Talking about Suicide
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
In our community we ostracize people that suffer from mental illness, specifically those who suffer from suicidal ideation. We are programmed that killing one self is a “Supreme Sin.” Which further alludes to people suffering in silence and as a result Suicide amongst African Americans is an epidemic that continues to increase. According to the Surgeon General, African Americans from the ages of 10-14 have committed suicide at 233% more than our white counterparts. These are astronomical numbers that we need to be aware of in our community. Not to mention that AA are more likely to suffer from life and environmental stressors that exacerbates symptoms of Depression that result in suicide. So what do we do? First, we acknowledge that suicide is real. We start to embrace mental illness and decrease this misperception that M.I. is a sign of weakness. No! We all have faced adversity at some point within our lifetime. It is imperative that we educate ourselves, raise awareness and advocate for those who suffer.
If you know someone who struggles with thoughts of suicide:
- Acknowledge and validate their thoughts and feelings. Rather you believe it or not, it is THEIR reality
- Ask if they have a plan to harm themselves. This has to be done very careful. The person suffering may be guarded and have a fear of that level of transparency. It is vital to ask these questions with compassion in mind. This is an essential question because it may help you understand the intensity of their thoughts.
- Assist them in seeking professional help. This will not be easy, but is important in saving One’s life.
- Actively listen, put down the phone, give eye contact and paraphrase so they are assured you are hearing them.
- Provide supportive language. Tell them you are here for them and they do not have to suffer in silence. You could be their glimpse of hope.
- Come up with a plan for safety. I would plan to be around them for the next 48-hours. If you cannot, make sure a loved one is near.
- After, self-care is essential and needed. Vicarious (Secondary) trauma is real. You might find yourself just as depressed. Make sure you meditate, listen to calm music, speak with your support system or do something that distracts you from what you might have experienced.
BONUS SUGGESTION: If you know someone or yourself that struggles with depression. Suggest creating a Gratitude Journal. Normally, journals are a place where we keep our deepest, darkest secrets. Well, what if it was a place where you placed all of life’s joy? This is a behavioral technique that can reprogram the mind from focusing on the negatives. This in turn, can lead to a more positive way of thinking.
If you or someone else struggle with thoughts of suicide please use the below resources:
COPE (Hennepin County)
Mental Health Emergencies: 612-596-1223
Always Be Light,
Kamisha G. Johnson, LGSW
President Amani Counseling & Consulting Services