Changing the Conversation About Suicide in the Black Community

By Dhyana Parker | Jul. 18, 2018

 

Note: This blog is presented as a cross-collaboration between NAMI and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, whose mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. It originally appeared on the AFSP Lifesavers Blog.

 

I had always felt that something was different about me. A few years after becoming a mom, I mentioned to someone that I felt I needed to talk to someone about my emotions. The person said, “Black people don’t see therapists. Just go to church, and you will be fine."

In our culture, discussing mental illness or suicide was frowned upon.

On August 14, 1994, my youngest brother Rocky died by suicide. I had never thought in a million years that something like this would happen to my family. My brother was my best friend and we talked about everything—at least, I thought we did. I hadn’t realized that my brother was hurting, so I hadn’t been able to help him. My family is extremely close, so this was a shock to all of us.

When people asked me how my brother died and I told them, a lot of the reactions from people in the black community were, “We don’t take our lives. That’s a white person disease.”

Well I’m here to tell you, that’s a lie. Our culture needs to wake up and realize that mental illness and suicide do not discriminate; it’s happening more in our community, and we really need to take notice.

After my brother’s death, I went into a very deep depression. For the next 17 years, I was alive, but it felt as though I wasn’t really living. I was hiding behind a mask and hurting inside. I didn’t understand what had happened to Rocky, or why he was so unhappy that he didn’t want to be here.

In 2012, I finally decided to listen to myself for once. I sought help in trying to cope with his death.

I went to see a therapist, but I felt she didn’t understand what I was saying or how I was feeling. I then decided to search for a support group. That’s how I first found out about AFSP. The support group I joined helped me through my grieving process.

In 2013, I decided to participate in my first Out of the Darkness Community Walk, along with my family.  The following year, I became a volunteer, helping AFSP’s D.C. Chapter to coordinate the walks. In 2017, I became the D.C. Walk chair. I am so proud and honored to be a part of something so powerful.

Being a part of AFSP and participating in the different events has been a healing process for me. I’ve become more comfortable telling my truth, especially telling the story about my brother. I still sometimes get funny looks, when working at events, from those in the black community. But when I tell people my story and speak about Rocky’s death, the conversation changes, and they understand a little better. I tell them that if I had known the warning signs for suicide, my brother might still be here.

We need to create a culture in which people in the black community no longer feel afraid to tell someone how they are feeling, and that they need help.

Becoming involved with AFSP has been a wonderful journey for myself, and for my Out of the Darkness Walk group, Team Rocky. I will continue to tell our story, and let other minorities know, “It’s okay not to be okay—but let’s talk about becoming okay.”

 



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Comments
Dhyana Parker
Thank you everyone for the kind words and support. It's still a very hard topic to discuss but I feel that it will get better if we keep talking about it.
8/14/2018 10:43:48 AM

Ressie
Thank you so much for your openness. I am a survivor of suicide and I am Bipolar. For me, the added stress to my life was the church I had to wear a mask of happiness and when I did talk about my disease, out of fear my Christian community would give me unasked for and dangerous advice when I was depressed. "Girl! don't claim that", "Do you have sin in your life?" " We are healed by his stripes." Now when I was a little manic my rebuttals could be quite amusing. " Ok, I will claim the next lottery number!" "Immensely!, I think he missed me!",LOL! But when deeply depressed I would hear their voices and all the other voices that told me I was worthless even to God. I never understood why my illness was met with silly but hurtful statements yet a person with cancer.....etc. was met with help and prayers that hurt the most. After seventeen years of living with Bipolar and talking with healthy Christians in terms of beliefs and values and the ones I already mentioned----unhealthy Christians full of dogma and a dismal view of God, I found the Black Church to be a huge stressor. Why? perhaps out of FEAR due to unintentional ignorance, and diseases of the mind can't be addressed with just prayer. Since the church is the center in our community the CHURCH critically needs our attention it is the one place many of us gather and many are waiting for help, for a breakthrough. So how can we as a group help? Is NAMI represented in our communities? Will, you talk to your church leaders and tell them about NAMI, ask for a room to use for class, connection family support meeting? Will you ask to be a speaker at the next women/men's retreat? We can be the people who can help bring the Chuch out of its darkness. I am not a leader of any organization I am just a person who believes we as individuals can @times help start a healing process in others.
8/13/2018 2:33:36 PM

Norman Burton
That's ok
8/3/2018 10:49:04 AM

Norman Burton
It is very gratifying to see courage of so many of our people who suffer not only mental illness but substance abuse. I am a mental health professional and I see first hand the un-spoken words: Mental Illness and HIV and what results of "Suffering In Silence. Thank you for giving Me hope that in our community we are beginning to effect change
8/3/2018 10:48:29 AM

Nancy Nettles
Kudos to you for stepping out! As a suicide survivor and AA I am often given strange looks when I share my story but it has not deter me! I know that so many people in our community go without help and often it can manifest into addiction or death. I am also a Pastor's kid and that narrative of church is the answer is bogus! I believe if I am sick I need to go to see someone. Why if I am have emotional issues or a mental illness I can't go see someone?! I still believe in prayer and I have a therapist!
7/26/2018 11:03:56 AM

Julia Tripp
This is a very important issue. Ive spent most of my adult life in therapy after a lifetime of trauma and unfortunately little to no support from my black community. Every day I see the impact of histories of trauma on black people and we belittle each other rather than help or understand. Thus I chose to retain therapeutic support, without shame for most if my adult life, after a decade of drug use just to want to get through each day. I have bevome a very strong person, and comfortable with my solitude, but I wish I could have had love from my people instead if ridicule. Today, my work has incorporated my understanding of the impact of trauma and my pain has become my strength. While i still experience depression, it no longer has the power to kill me.
7/25/2018 8:50:15 PM

JK Dulaney
Excellent program
7/25/2018 3:31:01 PM

Lizanne Corbit
Conversations like these are so incredibly important. Firstly, for those in the community, but also for all others to be aware of the stigma and disconnect surrounding these important topics. The idea of "just go to church, you'll be fine" is a very prevalent theme that can be so hard for some people to grasp but it has big impacts.
7/19/2018 12:58:18 AM

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