Changing the Conversation About Suicide in the Black Community
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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