For anyone who is reading this post and isn’t of an African-Canadian background, you may be wondering why suicide in the Black community is such a big deal.
You may think to yourself that ‘suicide’ in itself is a serious issue so why isolate the topic to one community?
But in certain cultures, suicide is something that will always be seen as a taboo and something that is a shame to talk about, an embarrassment, a stigma, an issue that is just too big to be expressed openly so it is just swept under the rug.
For the longest time, in the Black community, suicide has been labeled as a “white people thing.”
Mental illness is sometimes viewed as something that can be solved with prayer, more prayer, denial, and oh yea, prayer. Don’t get me wrong, praying is great, but denying that there is a health issue with someone and attaching shame to an illness, won’t get people to open up when they are actually in need of help.
I have struggled with depression since I was 18 years old. The cause: a series of things including stress and probably a lack of ability to cope with puberty and other young adult issues at the time, but I don’t believe the cause of a mental illness really matters. That is my belief.
Years later, I still struggle. I have had issues with suicidal thoughts and ideation and have wanted to take my life several times because the weight of depression seemed too big to bear and events that were overwhelming just seemed to take over one after the other.
I had a significant relapse last summer and I think that was the last straw for me. I was done. I just could not understand why I had to suffer the way I had suffered. It was horrendous. I had therapy and a hospital stay ( we all know how those go) and I dealt with depression that seemed debilitating. I had thoughts of dying before because of the extent, but this time, I felt like I was done.
What people need to understand, particularly people of color, is that depression is an illness and a vicious one. It affects your daily living and literally changes the chemistry of your brain so getting over it is not as simple as a cold.
It is something you cope with, as if you have been diagnosed with a medical issue. Everyone deals with sadness from time to time, but depression just takes it a step further, it takes it to a very dark place.
But unlike some people I have come across who may be ashamed, this is my story and I will not be ashamed by one that can help and impact the lives of others and I honestly believe I am still here to share what I have overcome.
Still, I have spoken to other people of color that I know personally you have stated that it is something we just don’t talk about and even have had their own personal situations they have been affected by that they have admitted to being ashamed by.
My own hairdresser has a daughter who struggles with mental illness. We talk about it with each other, but she does mention from time to time that, “It isn’t something she has told many people.” When asked what the impact of having a child with mental illness is, she’s told me, “You feel like you’ve failed as a parent.”
Falling into the stigma myself, I have often thought about what people in my family would say if I had actually gone through with suicide. My older aunts would probably claim “I am going straight to hell” while others who aren’t informed on the issue at all, may have claimed I was “selfish” and truly had nothing worth being depressed about. These are my assumptions from what I know.
Thankfully, for the most part, my family has been supportive and simply wants the best for me, but the stigma of mental illness that I and many others have faced as a person of color is something I hope we are fighting more to erase.
What makes me hopeful is more and more Black celebs of color are opening up about their experiences. Just recently, Bow Wow released his new album, Edicius, which is actually suicide spelled backward.
The rapper opened up about his past struggles with depression and marks the name for this album release as “relentlessness and coming back from death, for more.”
For the many people who listen to Bow Wow, especially the younger generation, opening up about his struggles and being honest is groundbreaking for others to know that they are not alone in their struggles.
I have definitely resented everything I have been through, but when I really take a good look at everything, I can inspire many who struggle to look for hope and see themselves as someone who can overcome challenges and succeed.
We can only heal as a community if we are willing to just be real and open about our struggles.
Mental illness is not just a ‘white thing’ and Black people do die by suicide.